A Thanksgiving Story

Produce at the Berkeley Bowl MarketHere’s a Thanksgiving story.

Last night as I was doing my Thanksgiving-meal shopping at my local grocery store (The Berkeley Bowl) I met a very nice young-adult low-wage worker who was bagging my groceries with me. Her name is Emily. We talked about how busy it was at the store, how hard she worked, and a little about how tired she was. I put my onions and yams in the bag, she handled the olives and capers. I wondered at the beauty of my organic tomatoes as she bagged up the bread.

Feeling particularly grateful for the bounty of my purchases and for the workers who made it all possible, I then shared with her that soon, if we were successful in our minimum wage political organizing, that her wages would be going up to at least $10.75 an hour—maybe as early as next March or April.

She was so excited! She could hardly believe it and asked me to tell her about what we were doing!! I filled her in on the details of the campaign we had been building for almost a year in Berkeley; how we’d been successful last year in raising the wages for 70,000 families in San Jose; how we’d helped put an extra $4000 a year in the pocket of each working person; and how despite all of the predictions of business collapse and economic disaster from the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, San Jose’s economy still seems to be humming along just fine, while working people have more money to feed their families, pay their rent, put clothes on their backs and to make their lives more livable and less stressful.

raise the wage photoAs we finished up with the groceries, Emily told me that she worked 8 hours and at the end of her long and busy shift she earned just $70—before taxes. I then looked at all of the groceries I was buying (total bill= $107.58). I looked at all of the hundreds of shoppers going through the lines and began multiplying their bills and calculating how much money the store must be grossing….

Then Emily asked me, as if what I had told her was just too good to be true: “Is the minimum wage really going to go up?” And I responded that if we did our work well, then, yes, we would win. I told her that the City of Berkeley Labor Commission was going to consider the new minimum wage law on December 11 at the North Berkeley Senior Center and I invited her to come to the Commission to tell her story. Then she shared with me that December 11th was her birthday. What a wonderful gift it would be, she thought, if the Labor Commission would vote to send a minimum wage increase to the City Council.

So, as I prepare my thanksgiving dinner, I’ll give thanks to Emily and all of the working people who make our daily bread possible. And if I could just ask one thing from the rest of you if you have the time– could you show up to the Labor Commission, speak out, and help us give something back to all of the Emilys of the world.

What: Berkeley Labor Commission meeting on the minimum wage
When: Wednesday December 11, 7 PM
Where: 1901 Hearst Street right (at MLK), Berkeley