Kansas City Fights for 15

The Kansas City-based organization Stand Up KC led a protest in favor of raising the minimum wage.

Throughout the day, activists held protests within the city and in fast food parking lots where they demanded an end to “poverty wages”—identified by the Economic Policy Institute as $11.06 or less in hour. The final rally point for the day was at 63rd and The Paseo, where the members gathered for pizza, drinks and to listen to other activists speak.

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The protest, called “The Fight to End McPoverty,” takes its name from the 2013 McPoverty Calculator, available on the Daily Beast’s website. The calculator, based on research by economists Jeanette Wicks-Lim and Robert Pollin surmises that if McDonald’s would charge an extra 22 cents for their Big Macs, the fast-food chain would be able to pay their employees over $15 an hour.

One of the speakers was mother and fast food worker Bridget Hughes. Hughes is a member of Stand up KC and has lived in poverty almost her whole life. Her mother was a low-wage worker and constantly struggled to pay bills, feed her children and keep up on house payments.

“It’s 1999,” Hughes said. “I’m 9 years old and I’m living in a van with my mom and sister.”

She remembers the cold nights she spent in that van, the days she spent begging for food at gas stations and eating food straight out of cans. Hughes remembers going to school acting like she had a home to go to but she didn’t. She remembers lying to her sister when asked “Why can’t I sleep in my own bed tonight?”

“We are just on a camping trip for now,” Hughes told her.

The struggles Hughes faced as a child are the same struggles she and her kids are facing today.

“Sometimes I have to send my children to my mother’s house because we don’t have lights or gas,” Hughes said.
“I skip meals so my kids can eat,” Hughes said. “Sometimes I feel powerless and defeated.”

In 2013 Stand Up KC contacted Hughes and asked her to be a part of the movement. Hughes was reluctant at first, but after explaining to her daughter the harsh realities of life they lived, she began to feel motivated to fight or Stand up KC’s cause.

When Hughes arrived, she was shocked that everyone in the room was facing the same struggles she was. When she heard the activists speak, she could resonate with what they were saying. Hughes didn’t feel alone anymore.

Fast-forward to last Thursday: Hughes spoke to a crowd of more than 100 people with confidence, passion and authority.
“Stand up KC, keep fighting,” Hughes said. “Don’t back down, we are worth more.”

After Hughes and other activists spoke, members began the march on The Paseo to the McDonalds on E. Meyer Boulevard and Troost. Police arrived on scene shortly after the activists started marching and encouraged everyone to get on the sidewalk for their safety.

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Activists arrived at McDonalds in the hundreds, flooding the parking lot and screaming, “We work, we sweat, for 15 on our checks!”

Richard Eiker, a McDonalds janitor and maintenance man, has been working in the fast food industry for 20 years. Eiker has dealt with inadequate materials and unsafe work environments for a majority of that time.

“When you cut your finger and it’s bleeding bad you go to the first aid kit, but most of the time there’s nothing in it, not even a band aid,” Eiker said.

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Eiker has had to use mustard instead of antiseptic and paper towels with scotch tape for a band aid because lack of medical supplies. Eiker gets burned at least two times a week from cleaning grease vats and grills.

“It’s a dangerous job sometimes, and when I don’t have proper supplies, it’s worse,” Eiker said. “If I need new gloves or new cleaning materials I have to call management and ask for them.”

Activists arrived with energy and frustration in their voices. Leaders of the march yelled through megaphones, “show me what democracy looks like!” The crowd responded with “this is what democracy looks like!” The parking lot was full of men, women, and children in red shirts with excitement and passion in their eyes.

After being in the parking lot for about 10 minutes, police told protestors that if they did not leave McDonalds, McDonalds would press charges for trespassing.

The police ended up arresting two prominent activists, including the leader of the march. After activists were forced to leave McDonalds property, they lined the sidewalks with signs that read, “End McPoverty & Racism Now!” and “ $15 & a Union.”
The march continued moving to the original rallying point at 63rd and The Paseo. Activists, tired and drained from the long day, talked, laughed and hugged each other.

Eliana Hudson, UMKC creative writing student and Stand Up KC activist, said their next event will be in Chicago from May 25th-26th.

Activists from all over the country are planning on protesting the McDonalds annual shareholders meeting again. Last year activists turned out in the thousands and managed to shut down the meeting, and were able to give the shareholders a list of their demands. Hudson hopes for another big turn out this year and encourages low wageworkers and students to join them on their journey to Chicago.

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For further inquiries on Stand up KC and their fight to end McPoverty like them on Facebook or follow them on twitter (@standup_kc).

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