By Jacob Mennuti/El Inde
Fight For 15 campaign manager, C.J. Boyd, used to bike to work in the treacherous snowstorms of Chicago, working at a bar that paid less than minimum wage with tips.
Working minimum wage jobs for almost his whole life while also fueling his aspiring career as a musician, Boyd moved to Tucson in 2020 and joined the Fight For 15 movement in January 2021, as the team’s campaign manager.
“Tucson is a very poor town,” Boyd said. “We have a lot of folks who are working full time and still living in poverty. The minimum wage was intended, when it was passed, as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. The whole idea was that nobody should be working full time and still be poor.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 established an employee’s right to a minimum wage and overtime pay after exceeding forty hours of labor a week. It also prohibits the employment of minors.
It’s more than just a job for Boyd. When he moved to Tucson, Boyd said he “wanted to put down roots,” and find a job that inspired both himself and others to make positive changes in the community. Boyd knows what it’s like to put your heart into something that doesn’t pay off financially.
“I’ve made less than minimum wage for a good chunk of my adult life,” Boyd said. “I was a touring musician for about 12 years and there’s no minimum wage for that, (you) get paid as little as nothing. I’ve always struggled financially and always found it difficult to just get by if you’re trying to do something that you actually enjoy.”
The current minimum wage in Tucson is $12.15, but Boyd and his campaign team hoped to change by the November election. Boyd spent countless hours campaigning and pushing for the City of Tucson to raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2025 and in November, Proposition 206 made the $3 increase in the minimum wage official.
The growth in hourly wage, however, wasn’t the only thing that Boyd was fighting for as he says the bill, “does contain more than just the minimum wage increase.” The bill included a clause that hoped to benefit hourly employees who get cut early from their shifts, requiring businesses to pay them if they are sent home early.
“If you send your employees home, you have to pay them at least three hours,” Boyd said. “So you can do that if you really don’t want them to work their six or eight-hour shift, you can only pay them for three. That’s still annoying, if you’re the employee who showed up on time and was ready to work and only got three hours, but [the clause] is saying you can’t send them home with nothing.”
Boyd has also been behind a push for an office of wage enforcement that looks for and investigates issues of wage theft, also included in Prop 206.
“Wage theft is actually the largest kind of theft in the country,” Boyd said. “It outpaces all of the other kinds of theft combined.”
“[Wage theft] isn’t something on most people’s minds. This is not the thing that most people are like, ‘Oh, I’m going to go out to the polls and voting for this’ because they just don’t know. But I think that if they did know that, they would care.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been Boyd’s biggest competitor in his push to increase the minimum wage. Most businesses argue that they simply can’t afford to pay their employees more than the current minimum wage. Boyd understands that times have been tough but says that businesses are not the only victims of this pandemic.
“It’s not the best time (to increase the minimum wage), the best time was 10 years ago,” Boyd said. “Wages have not kept up with productivity, they have not kept up with housing, they have not kept up with the cost of living … The pandemic has been rough for everyone and that is exactly why we need financial relief for everyone.”
Critics of Proposition 206, some of them local business owners, also argued that increasing the minimum wage wouldn’t come without raising the prices of goods and could even lead to a significant loss of jobs.
A study from Investopedia.com, a resource for XXXX, says increasing the minimum wage would likely result in higher wages and salaries across the board, which would also grow operating expenses for companies. These businesses would have no choice but to raise the price of their products and pass on those costs to consumers, creating a trickle-down system of inflation.
Boyd believes these arguments are “based more on scare tactics than evidence.”
“The fact is inflation is happening all the time,” Boyd said. “So this idea that somehow inflation is caused by the people at the bottom of the wage pyramid, that’s just not true.”
Boyd blames Tucson’s higher local prices in both the housing market and rent prices, noting that the market’s inflation is “based on greed” and has nothing to do with how much money people make.
“It’s not because we plan to raise the minimum wage, that sort of getting it backwards,” Boyd said. “We’re trying to raise the minimum wage partly because housing keeps going up.”
As for the potential loss of jobs, Boyd says it could happen, but for good reason. Employees who are working multiple minimum-wage jobs could have no use for a second job after the wage increase.
“If you are making $12.15 an hour just to be able to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment, you have to work 62 hours a week,” Boyd said. “Now, if you’re working 62 hours a week making $12.15 and then we raised the minimum wage, you no longer have to work a job and a half, you might quit one of your jobs.”
Although it could lead to some jobs being lost, Boyd says we are seeing a lot of people who are being paid so little that they have to work multiple jobs.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing that we want to end,” Boyd said. “So people working less, sure that means a loss of jobs by a certain calculation but it’s really not something that we should be complaining about.”
But not every local business in Tucson is against the increase in the minimum wage. Boyd says he had encouraged “almost 100 local businesses” and business owners to join the Fight For 15 movement, including Amy Smith, owner of Exo Roast Company.
Exo Roast Co. is hidden at the end of Sixth Avenue and currently sits adjacent to a major construction site. Smith says these factors which could affect business have not stopped her from doing what she believes is right.
“One of the things that we value the most is keeping my employees as long as I possibly can and making this job a pleasant environment for them,” Smith said. “A place where employees can have work with dignity, pay their bills, and enjoy their job and enjoy interactions with customers.”
Smith is very passionate about the campaign but says it’s hard to push the movement along if her coffee shop is the only business participating.
“We have tried to raise our wages as much as we can but it’s kind of a race to the bottom if you’re the only person doing that,” Smith said. “I’m pretty passionate about it, I hope it passes. I hope other business owners can get on board with it and see the logic behind it.”
Smith thinks that raising the minimum wage will allow more people to contribute to the economy.
“The escalation is only 50 cents every few months so by 2025, that will be up to 15 … That’s not hard,” Smith said. “We’re talking about inflation that’s a decade outdated. We really need to be thinking about our future and how everybody can have an equitable life.”
It was a grueling process for Boyd and his team to get their movement out to the public and onto the ballot. Because of the ongoing pandemic, this was an operation that included getting the word out without hosting any events while also simultaneously maintaining proper social distancing.
“We tried to still have things that people could do from home,” Boyd said. “We tried to adjust as much as possible to the pandemic.”
But against all odds, Boyd and his campaign team collected 30,000 signatures at the end of February, almost twice as many as they needed, and submitted them at the beginning of July.
That accomplishment was enough to host a celebration at the time, but the team had to stay the course and focus on their ultimate goal in November.
“It felt wonderful but that’s never the goal,” Boyd said. “That’s just like one step … If we don’t make that step, there is no step two so it was important, it was really important.”
Boyd was always confident that Proposition 206 would get passed. In a sample poll that wasn’t done by Fight for 15 before the November 4 election, Boyd says 64% of the people voting were in favor of increasing the current minimum wage.
The only thing left to do was to ensure that people were aware of what they were voting for.
“As long as people know that there’s an election and that this is on the ballot … We’re going to get it,” Boyd said.
The sample poll almost identically mirrored the actual results. Around 60% of the tallied responses voted in favor of Proposition 206, according to the results released by the Tucson City Clerk’s office. By 2025, Tucson’s wage workers will see their wages rise to $15 an hour.