Terrence Wise

My Journey: Fighting for a Living Wage and Workers’ Right to Unionize

I’ve been organizing to win living wages and unions for working people in Missouri for over a decade and I have worked in the service industry for more than 30 years. What motivated me to speak out and organize? My mom always told me, “Work hard and be a good citizen.” Despite following her advice, over the years, I realized that things are much more complex than that. This made me want to get involved and advocate for good jobs for all workers. 

I have worked two or three jobs at a time, and I also have a fiancée working as a health care worker. That is three or four jobs total between the two of us. Regardless of the extensive working hours we have put in, my fiancée, my three daughters, and I have experienced homelessness and have had utilities shut off.

These circumstances led me to recognize that what my family and I experienced was no fault of my own, but rather because of greedy corporations and a broken system.  

I am a member of Stand Up KC and the Missouri Workers Center. As a member, I advocate together with fellow fast food and retail workers to demand living wages and unions for all workers. We also work to win changes, such as healthcare and paid sick leave, in the workplace and campaign for elected leaders who support workers making living wages and joining unions.  

I’ve seen how our campaign has totally changed the narrative in this country because now living wages and union jobs are as desired and popular as ever. 

We’ve all seen our movement is strong with fast food workers being out on the streets, UPS workers on strike, teachers on strike, and screenwriters on strike. We’ve seen several states and municipalities raise minimum wages to $15 an hour or more all over the country. These actions and achievements keep me fighting on.  

To be frank, we still haven’t reached our goal: all workers having access to good living wages and good union jobs. But we’ve most certainly got the ball rolling and that gives me hope.  

A good job would make a difference in my life since it would provide me with adequate pay and benefits to care for my family and the opportunity to live a good quality life. 

Also, I know that good jobs would make a huge impact for our society because when folks do not have access to good jobs that leads to crime, poverty, and mental health issues and illnesses. The lack of good jobs forces folks to resort to literally anything else to try to make ends meet.  

I am confident that when folks have a good paying union job with health care benefits, paid sick leave, and a good living wage it will transform my community and the entire country. 

NELP’s vision of a good-jobs economy is exactly what we need to ensure that working people and their families are set up to meet their basic needs and enjoy their lives. When we talk about working towards a good job for everyone, that means everyone needs to get involved. Workers must act and come together to solve their own ills. We also need the community and allies, like NELP, to do their part.  

When it comes to workers’ rights and union jobs that pay a living wage, it’s not moments or individuals that make change in society, its movements, organization, and folks coming together that makes the change. 

Workers, community, and allies need to stick together and keep at it to achieve lasting and impactful change. Most of us don’t have the power of money, but we have the power of each other and with that there’s no challenge too big.  

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