It was just a few short years ago that each of us went on our first strike from our jobs at McDonald's -- one of us in New York, one in Los Angeles.
For us and the small number of coworkers who joined us back then, our goal was simple. We needed a raise to at least $15 an hour to be able to get by.
To be honest, we didn't know what would come of it. A lot of people said it was hopeless. Big corporations are just too powerful. They control most of the politicians. Nothing you can do.
Fast forward to today. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Monday that will raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in California, directly affecting 6.5 million workers, many of them raising children. Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to do the same in New York for millions more, and on Monday celebrated the victory at a rally with Hillary Clinton. Thousands more won $15 an hour at Pennsylvania's largest employer, the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
In all, at least 10 million workers will get raises to $15 an hour -- more progress for more workers at one moment than at any time in our country's history.
So how did this happen?
For one of us, Jorel, it started in 2012 when I was making only $7.25 an hour so McDonald's executives and their Wall Street shareholders could make millions. I could only afford to live with my parents in the South Bronx home I grew up in. I had to turn to food stamps and Medicaid to survive. There I was, often working double shifts to make ends meet, while this rich company forced taxpayers to meet its responsibilities. Some of us from different fast-food companies started meeting, and on November 29, 2012, 200 of us walked off the job for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.
The other one of us, Anggie, was one of thousands of workers in other parts of the country who followed the New Yorkers' lead. My mother, Maria, worked six days a week in a garment factory in South Central L.A., and then got a housekeeping job. Neither job paid enough to support me and my brother and sister. So I got hired at McDonald's to help out, but for all the hard work I put in, my paycheck was nowhere near what it needed to be. When I heard there was going to be a strike for $15, I joined in, for myself and for my mother.
Including our first strikes, there have been a total of ten in New York and seven in Los Angeles. Our fast-food workers' movement has been joined by janitors, health care employees, and home care and child care workers in cities across the country. Cities, starting with Seattle, have raised their minimum hourly wage to $15. Home care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15 statewide. Companies including Facebook, Aetna, Amalgamated Bank, and Nationwide Insurance have raised pay to $15 or higher. Workers in nursing homes, public schools, and hospitals have won $15 through union bargaining.
Fast-food workers like us have gone from making burgers and fries to making history. MSNBC said the Fight for $15, "entirely changed the politics of the country," and Fortune said the Fight for $15 "transformed labor organizing from a process often centered on nickel-and-dime negotiations with a single employer into a social justice movement that transcends industry and geographic boundaries."
For us, and for millions of others, this historic change means being able to think about living on our own, not having to depend on public benefits, even going to college. And more money in our pockets means we'll have more to spend to support jobs in other local businesses in our communities.
Since the time when we each first joined the Fight for $15, we have learned that the way working people win justice is by joining together and taking a stand. Our wins this week from coast to coast show more than anything the power of workers organizing. We're going to keep up the pressure on the fast-food companies like McDonald's, and the Fight for $15 is going to keep spreading to every city and state and every industry in America.
We've won one of the biggest victories for working people in history -- and we're just getting started.
Anggie Godoy works at a McDonald's in Los Angeles and Jorel Ware works at one in New York City.