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Meet the Hotel Workers Going on Hunger Strike for a $15 Minimum Wage

Meet the Hotel Workers Going on Hunger Strike for a $15 Minimum Wage

Written by Bryce Covert

Would you give up all food for a week for a $15 wage?

In Providence, Rhode Island, three hotel workers and a city councilwoman started a week-long hunger strike on Monday, protesting a state bill that would block their efforts to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The state Senate Finance Committee has passed a provision banning cities and towns from raising their minimum wages above the state level, which rose to $8 an hour at the beginning of the year and might be increased to $9. But $9 an hour is not high enough for Providence’s hotel workers, who had organized to get their city council to consider raising their wages to at least $15 an hour.

Santa Brito, a hotel housekeeper on hunger strike who spoke with ThinkProgress through an interpreter, said she’s making $10 an hour but still can’t get by. “I have to borrow money from my brothers and cousins just to pay off my bills and buy other things my son needs,” she said. “With the money I earn I can’t even pay off my mortgage.”

A $15 minimum wage, on the other hand, could make a big difference. It would allow Brito to pay her bills, buy necessities for her family, and even pay for her son to go to college.

My kids can eat more. With that minimum wage I could buy a home for my children to have a better place to grow up.

For Ylenny Ferreras, also a hotel worker on hunger strike who has been organizing for the wage increase and spoke through an interpreter, that higher wage “would definitely change my life,” she said. “My kids can eat more. With that minimum wage I could buy a home for my children to have a better place to grow up.” But on her current $8 wage, it would be very difficult to buy her own home.

Mirjaam Parada, another hunger striker who is lucky enough to make $17 an hour at her hotel, made less in her last job when everyone’s pay was cut by 20 percent. “I know what it means to survive,” she said. Her rent is $800 a month, and that plus gas and food “is all the money” at a lower wage, she added.

A $15 wage would allow the hotel workers to “live with a little bit of respect and not have to be afraid for the next month about how to pay the bills,” Parada added.

The fight isn’t just about wage levels, however. The provision in the state budget blocking local minimum wage hikes has made them feel ignored and disenfranchised. “Politicians say you have the right to vote, it’s your responsibility to make sure your community is fine,” Parada said. But their voices aren’t being heard.

“We’ve been totally ignored by the statehouse,” Ferreras explained.

That lack of local control is what made City Councilwoman Shelby Maldonado join the hunger strike. “As an official, I feel like it’s a right being taken away,” she said. “City officials should be able to respond to the needs of their community, especially on the minimum wage.” She represents Central Falls, where she said “families are living paycheck to paycheck just trying to make ends meet. They’re asking for a fair minimum wage.”

Rhode Island is the latest place to see these sort of preemption measures that ban municipalities from raising their own wages. Oklahoma passed one in April and Kansas has a law that prevents local governments from requiring contractors to pay higher wages. A handful of mostly Republican states passed these kinds of laws about a decade ago, including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Oregon and Texas. But in Rhode Island, the state legislature is controlled by Democrats.

The hunger strike will take place outside of the Rhode Island statehouse and last for seven days. “If we need it to go longer, then we will,” Maldonado said.

“I want the governor to know we’re together and this is necessary, to have a $15 minimum wage,” Ferreras said. “That’s why I’m on this hunger strike.”

This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: Steve Ahlquist

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78 comments

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11:04AM PDT on Jul 10, 2014

RAISE the Min Wage !!!!!!

3:11AM PDT on Jun 29, 2014

Thanks.

7:42AM PDT on Jun 28, 2014

Right on...$15 an hour - for a start!

3:32AM PDT on Jun 27, 2014

Thank you

10:37PM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

In early 1991 I publicly called for a $5 an hour minimum wage. Today, I think a $15 an hour minimum wage is reasonable. The Obama Administration and congressional Democrats are calling for an increase in the minimum wage, but it isn't high enough.

10:37PM PDT on Jun 26, 2014

In early 1991 I publicly called for a $5 an hour minimum wage. Today, I think a $15 an hour minimum wage is reasonable. The Obama Administration and congressional Democrats are calling for an increase in the minimum wage, but it isn't high enough.

12:17PM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Kamia, I understand when you fear if we get higher wages then prices go up, but we have been stupid to accept this premise from employers and large companies who set prices. What WE have eliminated is competition to lower the prices. We shop by convenience because convenience saves money in gas and time(?). Not really. The more competition via small business creates more convenience in driving shorter distance. It improves quality because manufacturers must please more wants. The only ones we have made it convenient for is the Walton's, Koch's, etc., who conveniently reap the profits with the power they now possess. More of the profits that used to spread around in wages now go into their pockets conveniently to offshore tax loopholes that cost us more to replace. WE lose when we shop conveniently, all around, and particularly with JOBS. Give me the chance to make more money, spend it much more wisely, now having the power of a consumer with more money? I'll take that every time. After all, isn't that what we give to them now?.

3:52AM PDT on Jun 24, 2014

Why do the workers always get so little pay

10:44PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

uuntil my retirement in 2010 at age 67, I never made it to $15. hr, I started at $8. after 1 year, had a 3 perfect increase to $8.24.. took years to make it to $10.hr. I'm now on SS, and it amounts to $240 a week..If I worked 40 hrs. it would amt to $6.00 hr. Try living a life on that. Prices go up on everything. My meds are $$$. Food, clothing,bills are a joke. What happened to COLA? I understand the frustration of people wantimg a decent wage. I have a 10 year old car, that I only drive when necessary.Yes, life is hard. We all try to make the best of it.

10:18PM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

What must other industrialized countries think, about the way we treat our citizens?

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