THE BLOG

As a University-Educated Precarious Worker, I Am Fighting for a $15 Minimum Wage

05/29/2015 01:10 EDT | Updated 05/29/2016 05:59 EDT
15 fairness

Throughout the past few months workers in the United States and Canada have made it clear that enough is enough. Enough of working on poverty wages while corporate profits reach unprecedented levels, enough of ideologies and policies of the free market and economic recoveries that mean worse jobs and intensified precarity for working people.

In the United States we saw this in the recent fight for $15 mobilizations where fast food, home care and other workers have said NO! to poverty wages. In cities such as Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco workers have taken their grievances to the ballot box winning significant gains. Here in Ontario, graduate students and airport workers have resisted business as usual.

Behind each of these movements are the stories of individual workers: a graduate student who due to working in poverty has been separated from his children for years, a fast food worker who worked for twenty years but still makes the minimum wage. These stories give us insight into the deteriorating labour conditions that many of us increasingly face and they help us understand why regular people would risk so much to come together collectively and try to fight for something better.

As the Fight for $15 & Fairness continues this month in cities across Ontario and throughout Canada, I want to share why I am fighting for a $15 minimum wage for all workers in Ontario, for better hours of work, for paid sick days and for the creation and enforcement of laws that protect workers and hold employers accountable.

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In May of last year I found myself in a situation like too many other young people in Canada: recently graduated from university, $30,000 in debt and unable to find employment. After applying for countless jobs I did what many others in a similar situation do: I took any job I could get. At the suggestion of a friend I signed up with a temporary agency and soon I started working at a warehouse in Scarborough.

Like many university students, I knew the labour market would be tough, but I had no idea just how tough it was until I started working in this warehouse. Like so many of us, I had been brought up with the belief that if I worked hard and got a good education I would be able to get a good, meaningful job. That illusion was quickly shattered as I found myself lifting and packaging PVR boxes and modems for eight hours a day.

Working in this warehouse was back-breaking and tedious but I always looked forward to our breaks and lunch where I would chat with my fellow workers. They came from various backgrounds: some were new immigrants who had once been engineers and teachers. Others have been here longer and used to work decent-paying and protected union jobs but now worked for the minimum wage with no benefits. Through our conversations and time together the challenges of precarious workers were often present. From being reluctant to take sick days for fear of reprisal to working for the minimum wage for upwards of 15 years, these are conditions workers are increasingly confronting.

In place of unionized and permanent jobs we now live in the world of "precarious" part-time jobs, agency work and other forms of non-standard employment that are unstable, lack regulation and where workers have little control and substantially lower income. These conditions are now prevalent in many areas of work, from those who work in higher education to those in retail. As workers we are often told that this is inevitable but as history and recent worker victories in the United States demonstrate, bad jobs and poor working conditions do not have to be the case.

Workers in Ontario are joining fellow workers throughout Canada and the United States in their respective fight for decent working conditions, and for laws that curb damaging employer practices. As the Ontario government continues its review of employment and labour laws, this is a critical moment for all of us to pressure the government for changes that raise the floor and which benefit all workers.

In light of incredibly anti-worker policies such as the four and four legislation that will effect tens of thousands of temporary foreign workers in Canada, and sweeping "right to work" policies in the United States which effectively destroy organized labour, we know that those with power are not going give in easily.

By coming together -- as workers, migrants, students -- in our respective campaigns, we build for the future and harness our collective strength. Like small disparate streams converging, in time we shall come to form a torrential river that will ultimately alter the political and social landscape of the future.

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