SEIU, Service Employees International Union, organized a march to coincide with the Democratic debate January 17. Their webpage states that they are an organization of 2-million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provided and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.
I spoke with Jay Dee Estep, A union delegate from SEIU 1199 in West Virginia who traveled to South Carolina to help #fightfor15 organize the marches held outside of the Gaillard Center and hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute on Sunday night.
As there is still a lot of animosity out there about raising the minimum wage to $15 I asked Mr. Estep why this cause was important to him.
Jay Dee Estep: The #Fightfor15 campaign isn’t about making sure every person can drive a Mercedes. It’s about making sure that any person who is willing to work 40 hours a week at any job doesn’t ever need public assistance for food, utility bills, or medical care, to not need WIC or Food Stamps if one’s spouse suddenly finds themselves out of work, to not have to juggle utility shut off notices in order to go to the grocery store. That is not true today, and if we’re going to claim to be the “Greatest Country in the World” we simply cannot be okay with any person, working any job, not being able to make ends meet because wages don’t keep up with the rising costs of goods and services.
For a single person to just “get by” living in Charleston, SC, for example, he or she must make at least $20.10 per hour for a 40 hour work week; forget about having a partner or children.
PE: So you feel that a minimum wage raise to $15 is not only good for “burger flippers” but for the country as a whole?
Estep: If fast food workers make $15/hr then every other employer will HAVE to raise wages, or they’ll lose their employees to McDonald’s and Burger King. Would you continue to mop floors in a hospital for $8.75 an hour if you could get $15 at McDonald’s? “Burger flippers” also feels super derogatory.
PE: I used that term as I hear it tossed out like a pejorative to shame that occupation, why do you feel there is such animosity toward fast food workers when it comes to the minimum wage discussion?
Estep: What the job is really is irrelevant. The #Fightfor15 is really about earning enough money at ANY job to live a comfortable life. Some people NEED to feel “better than” someone. They can make peace with their own situation if they can point at someone in a fast food uniform and say “at least I’m better off than you.”
PE: Can you tell me how you got involved with the #fightfor15?
Estep: I am the union delegate for the place I work. Being involved with my union led me to help others all over the country fight for livable wages.
PE: Being from West Virginia, where unions have played a huge part historically for the coal mining industry, do you feel that there is still a strong desire in our home state to support unions because of that history or do you see support for unions waning?
Estep: I don’t think support is waning, I think the workforce today takes unions for granted because they did not have to fight to get a union, it was just already there when they were hired. Now that unions are under attack in West Virginia with our legislators “Right to Work” campaign, people are again becoming more active and more appreciative of what a union does for them as a labor force.
PE: Worst case scenario, which candidate scares you the most democrat and/or republican and why?
Estep: Neither Democrat scares me. Every Republican scares me. The Republican party as a whole scares me because they seem only interested in supporting the causes and policies that benefit the wealthy, special interests, and corporations as opposed to those that directly benefit the people.
PE: This may be my personal perception but why is Martin O’Malley off the radar completely?
Estep: O’Malley is campaigning to be someone’s Vice President, which is why he is off the Presidency radar. He’s not trying to WIN, he’s trying to show how he would enhance a ticket as the VP, but that is my personal opinion.
PE: So, which candidate are you supporting?
Estep: Personally, I have an affinity for Bernie. During our march in South Carolina, Bernie Sanders was the only candidate to not only acknowledge us, he came out into the street with us and praised our work and urged us to keep fighting, said he was proud to see us out there.
My union supports Hillary. I am happy to help both candidates in whatever way I can because either is better than any Republican.