Interfaith Workers Justice Member Rev. Ralph Hutchison rallies Fight for $15 Supporters at City County Building 11/10

The right to fair compensation for our labor—a living wage—is a fundamental right of all workers. It is, to use a word laden with the power of our historic identity, an inalienable right—one which can not be denied.

Nevertheless, we live in an economic system that prizes above all else, the most consumption for the least price. We make many of our economic decisions based on where we can get the most while paying the least—often with little thought to what that means in the larger sphere of economic and social justice. For many of us, too often, it seems to be a simple economic decision—we don’t even recognize the rest of it.

That is why this rally, and the great organizing that has been going on in the Fight for Fifteen movement, and the simple demand for a fair, living wage as compensation for a day’s work, is important. We are calling on people to think more fully about the decisions they make. 

When you roll through the drive-in and choose from the dollar menu, you need to remember there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you aren’t paying the full price for your meal, someone else is. That person is behind the counter, clearing the tables, working the register, sweating over the grill, mopping up the spill, refilling the napkin dispenser, with a manager always pushing for more production…

As it is with everything economic in this country—the accumulation of wealth comes at a price. No one gets rich by magic—they get rich on the backs of people who work and are paid less than the value of their work. The difference between what workers earn and what they are paid goes up the food chain, literally. The word for that is exploitation, and the time for it to end is now.

It’s not enough to say workers should receive a fair wage. It’s not enough to say management should make concessions, and it’s not enough to say owners should share profits.

Consumers have skin in this game, and with it comes responsibility. We need to make decisions that demonstrate our commitment to justice. Standing in solidarity with workers and supporting their demands is a good thing—it’s the first step, though, not the last. It’s not only service workers who should write letters to the editor calling for a living wage or addressing outsourcing proposals—those who are on the consumer end should be writing, declaring that the time has come for all of us to pay the true cost of the things we enjoy so that everyone can share the wealth.

It doesn’t require socialism—capitalism can deliver if it tempers its single-minded focus on accumulation with an ethical dimension that recognizes that fairness and justice have an economic value in addition to their social and moral value. The economic system works best when everyone has a chance to participate.

So I am proud to stand with fast food workers who are fighting for fifteen and all who labor today. I regret that you have to spend your free time—or take time off—to organize and advocate and demonstrate for something that is your inalienable right. But because you are, the day will come when all of our society will recognize the fundamental human dignity inherent in all work, the day will come when every worker receives a fair and living wage for the work he or she does, the day will come when we all are able and willing to pay our for the things we buy, use, and eat.

Thank you for your courage and commitment.

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