Actresses and activists Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin joined Saru Jayaraman to discuss the ever-growing trend of economic inequality in the nation on Sept. 14.
The three women, who are touring Michigan, hosted their lecture to stress the need to raise the minimum wage and address Michigan’s role in improving workers’ rights across the country.
Tomlin, a Detroit native and WSU alumna, kicked off the event with a monologue as Judith Beasley, a waitress who has to be the breadwinner after her husband gets injured.
Through her character, Tomlin introduced a common situation: struggling to make ends meet while being paid significantly less than a living wage.
“Even with low wages, we have high aspirations,” said Tomlin.
She said change is needed in the form of livable wages, paid sick days and respect.
Next, Fonda stepped up to the podium to provide a solution. Fonda said the best way to move forward is to work with, rather than against, one another.
“We need to be compassionate to people across the board, or we’re not going to win,” Fonda said. “We have to be human beings; we have to realize everyone has to be respected.”
This is not the first time Tomlin and Fonda have worked together. Back in 1980, the two joined forces with Dolly Parton to take on their tyrannical boss and fight for respect in the movie "9 to 5." Now, their latest work, besides their Netflix series "Grace and Frankie," has been with Jayaraman.
Jayaraman is an advocate for workers’ rights and co-founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United). Fonda called her the Caesar Chavez of restaurant workers.
“The food industry is the largest and fastest-growing industry and it has the lowest-paying jobs,” Jayaraman said.
America holds the unprecedented record of households spending more on eating out than eating in their homes, Jayaraman said.
Together, Fonda, Tomlin and Jayaraman are calling for a mandatory, livable and equal minimum wage for tipped and non-tipped workers, as seven states already have.
To pursue this, they are attempting to get One Fair Wage on the ballot in November 2018. In order to get on the ballot, they first need 350,000 signatures.
“They’re using their celebrity status for a really good reason,” said Sara Weertz, a Wayne State graduate going back for her education specialist certificate who attended the discussion.
Fonda, who has two Academy Awards for best actress in "Klute" (1972) and "Coming Home" (1979) is known for her philanthropy in addition to a successful acting career. Her colleague, Tomlin, is an activist and distinguished comedian, with plenty of her own awards, including Emmys, Tonys and Grammys.
Weertz, like many others, was thrilled to see the women talk and agreed with the need to improve workers’ rights.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Weertz added. “Together, we can work toward a common goal.”
Working together is just what Fonda, Tomlin and Jayaraman want from the community. In their call to action, they explained the many ways to contribute to the cause, such as spreading the word, showing up to vote, donating and even going door-to-door.
Those who donate $10,000 receive a prize of lunch with Fonda and Tomlin. Those who donate $30,000 get a special visit on the set of Grace and Frankie.
Fonda, Tomlin and Jayaraman are not done working yet. They intend to revisit Detroit to continue the fight down the road.
For more information on Fonda and Tomlin’s cause, go to onefairwage.com.