Working 3 Jobs and 7 Days a Week to Get By

Sabrina Johnson will join demonstrators Tuesday seeking a raise in the minimum wage.

Sabrina Johnson (left) wants the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour.
Sabrina Johnson (left) wants the minimum wage to be raised to $15 an hour. –Sabrina Johnson

Sabrina Johnson misses sleep. The 23-year-old from Dorchester works three jobs to help support her mother, who is disabled, her niece and nephew, and her sister.

“I’m not going to stop because my family needs me,’’ she told Boston.com. “I don’t want to see us in the street or nothing.’’

Born in Boston, but raised in South Philadelphia, Johnson moved home in 2013 because her mother, Christine Leeper, was returning to Boston with Johnson’s niece and nephew, who are in her custody.

“I was like, OK, I’m not going to leave her with two kids, my niece and nephew, because she’s sick. I’m going to come and I’m going to help her out,’’ Johnson said.

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Johnson helps pay the bills and buy clothes with her paycheck from Chipotle, working as a wheelchair assistant at Logan Airport, and helping clients in their homes as a medical assistant.

She works seven days a week, and she gets paid just above minimum wage for two of her jobs, making about $2,000 a month.

On Tuesday, she will join demonstrations in Boston calling for a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Organizers hope thousands will attend.

“If I get to $15, it would be better for me and my family because I wouldn’t have to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning to go to one job and then don’t come home until three or four o’clock in the morning or one o’clock in the morning,’’ she told Boston.com. “And I’m tired. I’m 23 years old, you know. I miss getting eight hours of sleep. I miss that, I really do. It’s like, I work 7 days a week, and when you work 7 days a week, you get tired. You get tired of working.’’

At Chipotle, she makes $9.57 an hour. The state minimum wage is $9 an hour, but an approved phased-in increase would increase the state’s minimum wage to $11 an hour in 2017. McDonalds, by comparison, has an average hourly wage of $9.01.

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At the airport, she makes $10 an hour.

As a medical assistant, she makes $13.88 an hour.

At minimum, she works 18 hours at Chipotle a week, a maximum of about 30. She’s supposed to work 30 hours, Friday to Monday, at the airport. But because she has to stay until the last flight, she sometimes works up to 35 hours, staying until one, two, or even three in the morning depending on when the last flight is in. She works about 17 hours a week as a medical assistant.

Her mother does all the budgeting, but Johnson said between the income from her-25-year old sister, Seana, and herself, the family gets by.

But it takes a lot of work.

Her days often begin at 6 a.m. She commutes to Chipotle in Harvard Square, where she works on the line and as a cashier. Her shift can start anywhere between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday, she works at Chipotle until 4:30 p.m., then she travels back to Dorchester and to work her five-and-a-half-hour shift as a medical assistant.

When she works at Chipotle Friday through Monday, she has to leave Chipotle by 2 p.m. to get to her airport shift at 4 p.m., where she works until 12:30 a.m., or until the last flight.

On those weekends when she works at both Chipotle and the airport, she often only gets five hours of sleep.

When she works as a medical assistant, she goes to clients’ homes, cleans up, runs errands, and goes with them to doctors appointments. She works with elderly clients.

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Johnson is the youngest of three siblings. She graduated from South Philadelphia High School in 2010, and enrolled in the Lincoln Technical Institute right after graduating. She received her medical assistant certification in 2012.

In Philadelphia, she lived with her mother, working at a market and the football stadium.

She said her mother, who suffers from seizures and from rheumatoid arthritis, underwent three knee replacement surgeries. After the first surgery, she fell in the middle of the street after being told by doctors it was OK for her to walk without her cane. She went back for a second surgery, but when Johnson noticed her mother’s wound continued to bleed, she urged her to go back to the hospital. Her mother had gangrene and needed a third surgery.

Johnson said her mother is always in pain. If she walks without her cane, her joint can come out of its socket.

Now that the family is in Boston, Johnson said, the family has to make hard choices about which bills can be paid. Around Christmas, the bills got backed up.

“Either we pay the bills or the kids don’t have Christmas,’’ she said.

She said the family tried to figure out a “master plan’’ of who would pay what bill and who would get what gifts.

“I was like, OK, well, I’ll just pick up another job,’’ said Johnson. That’s when she started working at the airport.

The winter’s record-breaking snowfall, which caused public transit to sporadically shut down, cut into the days she could work. But at least she gained time to sleep.

She said she doesn’t work three jobs for herself.

“It’s not to benefit me, it’s just to support my family,’’ she said.

Johnson got involved with the Boston chapter of Fight for $15 in March of last year. She said she thinks movements like the Fight For $15 are important because they encourage people to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Everybody struggles, she said.

“It’s important to me because I came from a struggling mother to take care of three by herself, so I know what it’s like to struggle, you know?’’ she said.

She was one of many who headed to Chicago last May to protest outside McDonalds headquarters. Her mother saw her in the crowd on TV.

“I know I’m not out there just for myself,’’ she said. “I’m out there for everybody else in the United States who also struggles. I’m out there for everybody.’’

She said she wasn’t doing this interview for attention.

“I put my heart, I put blood, sweat and tears into Fight For $15 because this is a big goal for us,’’ she said. “It would be a blessing, it would be a dream, to make $15 an hour.’’

What would she do if she didn’t have to worry so much about money?

“Get a car for a better commute,’’ she said.

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