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REVIEW: David Rolf’s “The Fight for $15”

June 27, 2016

David Rolf‘s new book, The Fight for $15: The Right Wage for a Working America, begins by detailing the growing gap between the ultra-wealthy and working poor in the U.S. The rest of the book cogently and compellingly argues that working people are poised for a comeback. “There is hope,” he writes, “because some people are now starting to…organize new ways for everyday Americans to build power.”

The most conspicuous of those “new ways” is the ongoing Fight for $15, a drive to increase the national minimum wage to $15/hour. Rolf devotes two long, detailed chapters in the middle of his book to the successful Fight for $15 campaigns in Seattle and SeaTac, Washington. (Rolf, the president of SEIU 775, led both organizing efforts.) Since these early victories, the Fight for $15 has swept the country, notching notable victories in CaliforniaWashington, D.C., and New York in addition to targeted wage increases for home care workers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

The home care workforce comes up several times during The Fight for $15. Rolf writes that the home care industry “historically has provided minimum wage – or subminimum wage — jobs with no benefits and little chance of advancement.” In a chapter rebutting the many myths surrounding a $15 minimum wage — for example, raising the minimum wage would kill jobs and/or cause rampant inflation — Rolf cites PHI affiliate Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA) as an example of an employer that has been successful while maintaining its commitment to paying higher wages.

CHCA is a worker-owned business in a typically low-wage field, yet is focused on compensating workers fairly –in terms of both wages and benefits — and ensuring that they have steady, reliable hours. “I’m financially independent,” Rolf quotes CHCA home health aide Zaida Ramos as saying. “I belong to a union, and I have a chance to make a difference.” In her case, “making a difference” refers to both the work she does — helping elders and people with disabilities live independently in their own homes — and the fact that she has brought her family out of poverty and can pay for her children’s schooling.

Rolf writes movingly about his grandfather, who was born into poverty in 1912. In 1950, he took a factory job at General Motors, and, by working hard and pinching pennies, saved enough money to buy a house and a car, pay for his wife’s nursing home care without having to go on Medicaid, and leave his children a small inheritance. Today, a home care worker could be equally hard-working and thrifty, and still barely have enough money to pay for rent, groceries, and health care. Rolf’s important and hopeful book “advances the very idea that it wasn’t always this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way.”

— by Matthew Ozga

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