Why I'm crashing the GOP debate

As a Burger King worker making $8 an hour, I don't have the luxury of sitting down to read about the presidential candidates every morning. Every spare moment I have is spent worrying about how I'm going to survive the month. Have I saved enough pay checks in a row to pay for rent? How are my three grandchildren going to eat? Do I need to turn to food stamps?

But this year, that's changing. Just hours before the GOP presidential candidates take the stage in Houston for tonight's debate, I'm going to be walking off the job to demand $15/hour and union rights. And I'll be joining 1,000 other underpaid workers outside the debate to stress to the candidates that the 64 million workers across the country who are paid less than $15/hour cannot be ignored.

Janice Talton, Burger King worker
Source: Fight for $15
Janice Talton, Burger King worker

It's a big step for me to take, but I've learned that the only way things will change is if I speak out. Even though I've worked at Burger King for two years, I've spent my whole life in the food industry. First there was Luby's Cafeteria, followed by a 10-year run at Popeye's. Then it was McDonald's, and now Burger King. But in many ways, they've all been the same minimum wage job.

The truth is, I love to cook—that's why I've stayed in fast-food for so long. I don't mind standing behind the grill all day. I'm proud of my work, and I do my job well.

What I do mind is that at the end of the day, my paycheck is so small I have to run a side-business cooking food for neighbors or other acquaintances. I mind that when my daughter asks me if I can chip in for baby formula this month for my grandchild, I have to say I don't have the cash. I mind that the thought of owning a car is so out of reach, it's practically a fantasy.

There is something wrong with that. After all, I'm 47 years old. I'm a full-time employee at one of the biggest fast-food chains in the world. But I hardly make enough to divide my paycheck between rent, food, and the electricity bill. I'm so drained by this way of living it's impossible to care about anything else. For decades, politics has seemed like a distant game I have no part in. I can't even remember the last time I voted.

Since becoming involved with the Fight for $15, I've realized that it's not just me, and it's not just the fast-food chains where I've worked. All over the nation, fast-food, home care, child care, retail, and all other underpaid workers have been joining together to tell politicians and companies we need and deserve more.

And they're listening. Last summer, fast-food workers in New York won $15 an hour. In Massachusetts and Oregon home care workers won $15 an hour, and it's the minimum wage in a growing list of companies, such as Facebook and Aetna.

I still don't have time to read every article about the candidates, but the Fight for $15 has shown me that both my voice and my vote count. They are the reason I'll be going on strike at Burger King on Thursday, and why I'll be outside of the GOP debate Thursday night chanting "We can't survive on $7.25" until every candidate vying for our votes knows we'll only be won by the promise to fight for $15 and union rights.

They are also the reason I'm going to bring every friend, family member, co-worker, neighbor, and church member I know to the ballot box with me this coming Tuesday to vote for the candidate who is listening to our issues. They are the reason this fight cannot wait.

Janice Talton is a Burger King employee from Houston, TX who is a member of the Fight for $15. She plans to vote in the 2016 election.