I've Worked for McDonald's for a Decade. I Still Make Just $8.50. It's Time for a $15 Minimum Wage | Opinion

When I first started working at McDonald's, I was paid $8.00 an hour, just above the federal minimum wage. Today, after 10 years, I'm paid just $8.50 an hour, even though everything around me has become more expensive.

That's why watching the U.S. House of Representatives vote for a $15 minimum wage this week means so much to me. It gives me hope that workers like me won't be stuck at $7.25, $8 or $8.50 for long. It's proof of the power workers have when we stand together and fight.

I know exactly what $15 an hour would mean for workers like me. My paycheck at McDonald's doesn't go nearly as far these days. I used to live in an affordable rooming house that was close enough to my McDonald's store that I could walk to work. But then my neighborhood started gentrifying, and rent got too high for me to stay—my 50-cent raise, from $8 to $8.50, hardly made a dent. Now I have to pay $200 a month more in rent, plus I need bus fare because my new place is too far for me to walk.

Today, I have maybe $50 left over after my bills are paid at the end of each month. Maybe I can make that work if all I need is new shoes or a few apartment repairs. But if there were any kind of emergency, I'd be left with nothing. I have no cushion. All that is to say: after all these years at McDonald's, $8.50 an hour is insulting. It doesn't reflect my hard work, experience or loyalty, and it's nothing near what I'd need for true stability.

For a long time, I thought poverty wages were my lot in life. I felt like I had absolutely no control over my pay or my future. Then I got involved with the Fight for $15 and a Union in North Carolina.

When I joined together for the first time with other workers on the strike lines to demand $15 and a union, I could see the impact right in front of my own eyes, as people spoke about their experiences and I saw myself in their struggles.

Back in 2012, everyone said $15 would be impossible. Now we've seen how much we can change in just seven years. Our country's elected leaders got behind $15 an hour because fast-food workers like me demanded it.

And there's no way we're stopping now.

Because of workers like me who have told their stories, gone on strike, and inspired people in power across the nation, seven states and dozens of cities and employers have passed laws leading to $15 an hour. Across the country, 24 million workers have won raises, totaling $70 billion as a result of our powerful movement.

Despite all the victories we've won, we have a long way to go. States like North Carolina have failed to get the message, and many workers here are stuck at $7.25 an hour. That's why passing a federal $15 minimum wage is so important - because all workers, no matter where they live or where they work or where they're from, should have access to a living wage. I'm calling on the Senate to follow the House and bring the Raise the Wage Act to a vote. Representatives and senators work for us, and it's time they give us the raise we need to survive.

But in the meantime, McDonald's can take action tomorrow to raise wages and do what's right for workers. Big companies like Target, Disney, and even Amazon are raising pay to $15. What's stopping McDonald's?

That's why, along with McDonald's workers all over the country, we're celebrating the House victory by taking to the streets again to make sure our message is heard loud and clear: we won't rest until we get $15 for all workers.

When we first started speaking out, few gave us a shot. But now, we know our representatives in the House are with us. Candidates for president of the United States are with us. They know that a $15 minimum wage is good for America. It's time for the Senate -- and for companies like McDonald's -- to catch up and pay workers a living wage.

Rita Blalock is a McDonald's worker from Raleigh, North Carolina and a leader in the Fight for $15 and a Union.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​