Darius Cephas didn’t realize he was about to help spark a revolution when a labor organizer walked into the Dorchester McDonald’s where he worked and told him about a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and form a fast-food industry union.
Cephas, now 25, was ready for a fight. Working low-wage jobs since he was 14 to help his mother, he had dropped out of trade school to take care of her when she had a stroke. He and his McDonald’s co-workers had just been talking about how little they were paid, with many trying to support families on $8 or $9 an hour.
Determined to do something about it, Cephas embraced the cause — going on strike, recruiting other workers, speaking at rallies. He quickly became the local face of a global effort, even flying to Chicago, Europe, and Brazil with the Service Employees International Union to meet with other fast-food workers and elected officials — the first time he had traveled outside New England.
As Cephas pounded the pavement, the Fight for $15 movement became a phenomenon. Workers in other industries joined in, some cities and companies raised their minimum hourly pay to $15, and politicians around the country addressed the growing call to help low-wage workers.
Last month, the biggest victories yet: California and New York both raised their state minimum wages to $15 an hour. In Massachusetts, a bill that would require fast-food chains and big-box retailers to pay employees $15 an hour is pending in the Legislature.
Cephas is still at McDonald’s, and he is hopeful that the changes for which he has worked so hard will be enacted in his home state. Cephas says that after being denied promotions in the past by a McDonald’s manager who told him he wasn’t a leader, he feels vindicated by the wave of higher wages he has helped usher in.
“It’s my life,” he says. “I’m actually changing history.”