As the second day of classes started, federal minimum wage laws might have been one of the last things on most students’ minds — but wages were at the forefront of one of the busiest student commuter areas. Over 100 students, fast food workers and community members picketed across the Drag as part of a nationwide campaign for higher wages.
Fast food workers in Austin and 50 other urban centers nationwide held rallies and protests with the main goal of raising the federal minimum wage to $15. The current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
Among the crowd was Maria Ortiz, a current Long John Silver’s employee. Ortiz, who works at the restaurant’s Riverside location, said she was motivated to attend the rally because of her current economic situation.
“I want more wages to provide for my family,” Ortiz said. “I’m a single mom and need to provide.”
Though event organizers said some fast-food workers were hesitant to attend the rally for fear of losing their jobs, Ortiz said she was not taking a risk by participating.
“My director of operations at Long John Silver’s said I was good to do what I want,” she said.
Ortiz was just one of the many employees upset about current minimum wage rates.
Jose Rodriguez, a former Fuddruckers employee, said he shared the frustration about wages he perceives as much too low.
“I don’t think that $7.25 makes any sense,” Rodriguez said. “In fact, I don’t even think $8 makes any sense. I demand higher wages.”
Also among the crowd were UT employees, who said they were sympathetic to the fast food workers’ frustrations. Rocio Villalobos, a program coordinator at the University’s Multicultural Engagement Center, said she supports the movement because of personal experiences.
“I grew up in a working class family, my father worked two jobs to provide, and my mother worked long hours for minimal pay,” Villalobos said. “I empathize with these worker’s struggles.”
In addition to requesting higher wages, protesters demanded the right to form a worker’s union without fear of reprimand.
Kelly Booker, an information studies graduate student and member of the Texas State Employees Union, said she protested because she felt passionate about unionization.
“Our union is the reason graduate students now have health care benefits, and we just wanted to show our support for fast food unions by coming out today,” Booker said.