One Kansas City fast-food employee emerged as a leader in last year’s protest to raise the minimum wage for the nation’s lowest paid workers; this year he traveled to Las Vegas to give an address to the NAACP at their annual national convention.

His message is one that is beginning to reverberate among those in the employee rights movement: Increasing the minimum wage is not only an economic issue, but one of civil rights.

At last month’s convention, he exhorted the delegates to lend their support to America’s legion of workers in the fast-food industry, calling for “economic justice.” The organization unanimously resolved to support an increase in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

Those seeking higher wages have found strong support in the Service Employees International Union, a branch of the AFL-CIO. In the last year the union has championed efforts of fast-food industry employees to be paid $15 per hour and to belong to a labor union. They have also been a welcome source of legal and financial support.

Some workers believe their efforts are divisive to the public and that their goals may be too steep. However, the measure the NAACP is focusing on is to increase “a living wage for all working people” and supports the federal Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 along with President Obama’s executive order requiring federal contractors to pay employees no less than $10.10 per hour.

The federal minimum wage would be increased incrementally over a three-year period, from $7.25 up to $8.20, then again to $9.15 before leveling off at $10.10. There is no assurance that the bill will pass, however, given the shaky political climate in Congress.

Many see $10.10 as a reasonable goal when compared to the significant rise in fast-food executives’ salaries and corporate profits even during the recent recession. The outreach director for labor and worker rights at the National Consumers League stated, “For decades, American wages have stagnated, even as worker productivity has increased. It’s time to give Americans a raise.”

If Missouri workers have unresolved wage claims, they are not without recourse. The law provides them a venue in the civil court system to address their grievances.

Source: The Kansas City Star, “Fast-food workers’ pitch for higher pay turning into civil rights issue” Diane Stafford, Jul. 27, 2014