Fighting for a Better St. Louis

The following op-ed by SEIU Local 1 janitor Cynthia Sanders appeared in the June 20 edition of the St.  Louis Post-Dispatch:

“Imagine receiving a raise that would change your life. Now imagine that extra money being torn away from you just a few months later.

“About 35,000 working people across St. Louis face that prospect after finally receiving a little relief, and I am one of them. I’ve worked as a janitor for nine years, helping to support my grandchildren, and I know what it’s like trying to raise a family while the cost of living keeps going up. At $8.30 an hour, scraping by was tough. But in May, the minimum wage in St. Louis rose to $10, and my life changed immediately. I can pay the bills and have a bit to spare for my granddaughters, for their back-to-school supplies, for our groceries. The higher wage, which are supposed to rise again to $11 in 2018, helps me and so many other working families afford the everyday necessities that others may take for granted.

“Now, families can spend money on things we need while putting money back into our communities. Businesses in our neighborhoods will make more money and grow. We know when wages rise for one group of people, they rise for everyone. This change has the power to transform St. Louis for the better, especially in the neighborhoods left behind where change is most needed.

“Poverty isn’t a state of mind. It’s a trap far too many St. Louis families, nearly one in four, find themselves stuck in, and a higher minimum wage helps to give us the tools to climb out. It will help St. Louis residents from all backgrounds. Across the country, cities that have raised the minimum wage have seen job growth go up and wages rise for more than just for minimum-wage workers.

“But Republicans in Jefferson City passed a bill, HB 1194, that would reverse the progress we’ve made. If Gov. Eric Greitens signs the bill like his rich dark-money donors want him to, the St. Louis minimum wage would drop from $10 back down to $7.70 on Aug. 28. That means a summer of hope followed by a massive pay cut for 35,000 people.

“It means taking home $1,800 less every year for thousands of working people across our city. The governor and other Jefferson City politicians would take money out of my family’s pocket to satisfy the super-rich donors contributing to their political campaigns and PACs.

“I pick up my granddaughters from school after work every day, and on our way home we discuss all the normal stuff — what they learned in class, and what they want to be when they grow up. With a little extra money in my pocket I can support their dreams. For the first time in so long, I’ve felt more hope for what the future could bring for my family.

“But that is hope that would be dashed if the minimum wage is slashed. How can we save for college when my entire check gets eaten up by rent, bills and gas? How can we work and save for a better future when we can’t even afford the present? How can we tell people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when we don’t even have the shoe leather?

“Gov. Greitens and other politicians who are out of touch want to take away my peace of mind and a brighter future for my family and do the same to tens of thousands of others. Working people in our cities should be able to decide what is best for our own future. We need a voice in deciding a minimum wage that reflects our needs and addresses the cost of living in our communities. I know what’s best for my family and my neighborhood. My neighbors know what’s best for theirs. Politicians all the way out in Jefferson City do not.

“Don’t take away the tools we need to change our lives, Gov. Greitens. Don’t take money out of our paychecks — my family and so many others in St. Louis are already on the brink. Making HB 1194 the law and lowering the minimum wage would be unimaginably cruel.”

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