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Detroit's "Fight for $15" workers meet with U.S. Labor Secretary

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Kate Wells
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U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spent an hour in Detroit today speaking with a small group of fast-food servers, home health care workers, gas station clerks and other minimum-wage earners. 

The workers are with "Detroit 15" – a local group that's part of the national push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Sitting next to Mayor Mike Duggan, Perez praised the workers, repeatedly comparing their cause to the civil rights movement. 

"Your movement is shining a light on the fact that we can do better, and we must do better. What you've said, you're talking about what the dignity of work is all about," Perez said.

 "The dignity of work means, when you get a paycheck, you ought to be able to pay all your bills. The dignity of work means that your children should never be crying because they're hungry." 

Several of the workers told Duggan and Perez about having to choose between paying their heat, rent, or medical bills; having to delay going back to school in order to support family members; and struggling with homelessness.

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Credit Kate Wells
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Alicia Roberson spoke emotionally about getting evicted with her three children.

"I have three children," said Alicia Roberson, who said she makes $8.15 an hour working at the Dollar Tree. "Two days ago, we were evicted. Last night was the first night I had to sleep in my car with my children. I would love to make $15 an hour, just the fact that my children could actually have a bed to sleep in." 

LuWanda Williamson says she and her mother and two little sisters have been sleeping in her mom's van lately, or staying with friends and family when people will take them in.

Williamson says she works at Wendy's 20 hours a week and McDonalds two days a week and makes $8.15 an hour – which is Michigan's minimum wage. 

"Fifteen dollars an hour would change my life so much. I'd be to get my sisters school supplies next week, like, they don't have gym shoes," Williamson said. "I'd be able to get a roof over our head." 

For Duggan's part, he said his office is working to find a place for both Roberson and Williamson to sleep tonight. 

Asked about cities like Los Angeles that have hiked their minimum wage, Duggan points to a new state law that says Michigan cities can't raise local minimum wage rates higher than the state rate of $8.15 an hour. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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