[image-1]While the top Democratic presidential candidates gathered at the Gaillard Center to debate the issues, hundreds marched outside demanding a $15 minimum wage and union ri

Crowded behind a banner reading “Come get our vote,” protesters from all over the Southeast united to send a clear message to the politicians vying for the presidency: The current wage structure affects them, their families, and their communities as a whole.

“Childcare is very important to me. I spend a lot of hours working and volunteering, and I’m in a lot of places where important meetings are happening and I have to bring my child. I know I’m doing great work in the community, but if I had childcare, I’d be able to do more,” said Shyronn Jones from Atlanta. “I’m an HIV educator. I’ve been living with HIV for 15 years now. I learned a lot that I pass on to the community. I’m involved with a lot of advisory councils, and I believe it is important to address this condition right now because the numbers are going up.”

Sunday evening’s march, which began in Wragg Square before moving on to the Gaillard Center, shut down Calhoun Street for almost an hour. Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders briefly addressed the crowd before the debate, saying, “We are the wealthiest country in the history of the world. People should not have to work for starvation wages. So we are making progress. There are cities and states moving in the direction of $15 an hour. That is my goal. If elected president, that is what I will fight for. Keep up the good work.”

[image-2]Earlier in the day, fast-food workers led a strike downtown, and workers met with state Sen. Marlon Kimpson who introduced a bill in January to establish a state minimum wage in South Carolina, which would increase annually, reaching $15 per hour in 2020. South Carolina is currently one of five states with no minimum-wage law. Twenty-nine states and Washington D.C. have implemented a minimum wage higher than the federal level of $7.25 an hour, and 11 states tie their increases in minimum wage to the rise in cost of living. The District of Columbia offers the highest minimum wage in the country, guaranteeing working at least $10.50 an hour.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates from 2010, full-time private-industry fast-food workers in the Charleston metro area earned an average of $8.46 per hour and $15,266 annually. Statewide, South Carolina’s workers on average earn about $19 an hour across all jobs, almost $4 below the national average.

“For too long, we have been receiving a minimum wage that we haven’t been able to live off of. Anytime people are willing to come together to fight for a better living, I’m all for that,” Kevin Hunter, who travelled from Richmond, Va. “I’m here to make a showing that I support a $15 minimum wage. I believe this is my job to stand with these people out here because I’ve had to live myself off of minimum wage. We are all together as one trying to make a difference.”


Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.