Sunrise Movement Missoula protested in front of Sen. Jon Tester’s office Saturday for a minimum wage increase in Montana.
The protest was held in response to Sen. Tester’s vote against a $15 federal minimum wage increase proposed by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders. The Senate ruled out the minimum wage increase in a 58-42 vote, in which seven Democrats and one Independent joined all 50 Republicans.
Eight members of Sunrise Movement Missoula attended to give speeches, sing and hold signs in front of Sen. Tester’s office.
“We call on Senator Jon Tester to step up,” said Devin Jacaruso, a member of Sunrise Movement Missoula. “We all need a $15 minimum wage to survive. Amidst the pandemic, amidst the climate crisis, amidst all this we can’t even get a livable wage.”
Approximately 126,000 people in Montana make under $15 an hour, Jacaruso said. That’s almost a quarter of Montana’s workforce, a figure that Jacaruso said is disproportionately represented by BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, people of color — communities.
“It really feels like anyone who suffers from marginalization can’t stay in this town because of how low the wages are,” Jacaruso said.
As of now, Montana ranks 33rd in the nation for economic inequality, Jacaruso said.
“Eight seventy-five is not enough to pay for food, to pay for electricity, to pay for Wi-Fi,” Jacaruso said. “It’s just not enough.”
Kyle Fussell, a member of Sunrise Movement, said he struggles to balance the expenses of his disability with the high rent and low wages in Missoula. Fussell said the collective expense of medication, rent and hospital visits make it difficult to live in Missoula.
“Every time I leave I have to consider whether I can pay for an ambulance ride or next month's rent,” Fussell said.
Other protesters discussed the importance of raising the minimum wage for college students. Josiah Anderson, a student at the University of Montana, said raising the minimum wage is essential for students to choose a career they enjoy without worrying about income.
“It affects everyone because it affects people’s choice of career,” Anderson said.
Protesters called on Tester to voice their grievances and demand for a livable minimum wage increase. Jacaruso finished the protest with a song and encouraged the fight for a livable minimum wage to continue.
“Many people don’t have enough to support themselves,” Jacaruso said. “We need a livable wage as soon as possible.”