Rachel Nelson has worked for 10 years at a fast food restaurant in Charleston. Years spent fighting for a raise, usually a nickel at a time, have amounted to her current wage — $9 an hour.
“My last check, all I was able to do was pay our light bill,” said Nelson, a 35-year-old mother of three. “I don’t want to depend on public assistance forever.”
It’s not uncommon for the woman to spend 12-hour shifts standing on her feet and hauling heavy boxes with no breaks. What little she makes goes toward bills, forcing her at times to choose between buying food for her family or a bus ride to work.
When it comes down to it, the mother would rather walk, she said, than cause her children to go without. “I want what’s best for my children. All mothers do,” Nelson said.
What’s best, she said, would be a bump in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“We’re not asking to get rich,” she said. “We’re just asking to make enough not to live in poverty.”
Nelson shared her story Saturday while seated on a panel during a South Carolina Raising Wages Summit at the International Longshoreman Association Hall in Charleston. The event, which aimed to rally support for livable wages and other labor causes, was hosted by the S.C. AFL-CIO and attended by roughly 300 people.
Attendees heard from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who told them he hadn’t forgotten the struggles of getting up at 4 a.m. every morning to deliver milk in Sumter before heading to school at 8:30 a.m.
“I know what that is like. I will never allow that to get too far from my thinking,” he said.
It’s imperative, he told the crowd, that society that allows its citizens to “work and dream about the future.”
Part of that effort must be raising the minimum wage to ensure that necessities such as education and health care are within reach, he said. An increase to $15 is not an unreasonable request, he said.
“That’s where it ought to be,” Clyburn said. “The men and women who earn hourly wages must earn a livable wage, not just an hourly wage.”
South Carolina, along with Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, has no state-level minimum wage, so employers abide by the federal rate of $7.25 an hour.
The event’s organizers encouraged attendees to commit to making phone calls to union and community members, distribute fliers, talk with friends and family, rally and perform other acts to push the initiative forward.
Reach Christina Elmore at 843-937-5908.