Low-Wage Workers ‘Movement’ Flexes Its Muscles Nationwide

Employees of the fast-food industry demand $15 minimum wage and better workplace protections as actions expected in 150 cities across the country.

 

Striking fast-food workers in Detroit on Thursday, September 4 are among those nationwide demanding a $15 minimum wage, better workplace protections, and the right to join a union. (Photo: Twitpic)

Striking fast-food workers in Detroit on Thursday, September 4 are among those nationwide demanding a $15 minimum wage, better workplace protections, and the right to join a union. (Photo: Twitpic)

 

By Jon Queally for Common Dreams, September 4, 2014

 

Fast-food workers are out in force nationwide on Thursday as they participate in a day of action designed to highlight the scourge of low-wages and push a series of demands to combat the persistent poverty endured by those who form the backbone of  the profitable multi-billion dollar industry.

Led by organizers at FightFor15—and supported in their call by the Service Employees Union International (SEIU), grassroots organizers, and other workers’ rights groups—the fast-food employees say that singular actions that first started in New York City in 2012 and then spread to other cities have now become a national movement. Pushing for a $15 per hour “living wage” for all workers is the central but not sole demand of the workers and those who back them.

Organizers are expecting worker strikes and solidarity protests in 150 U.S. cities as employees of Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and other chains demand a dramatic increase to the minimum wage, better workplace protections, and the right to organize and join a union.

According to NBC News:

In Kansas City, Missouri, workers are expected to walk out of 60 restaurants. Latoya Caldwell, a Wendy’s worker, is one of dozens of fast food employees in Kansas City who plan to sit down in a city intersection, lock arms and get arrested.

“We’re a movement now,” Caldwell said on Wednesday before starting a shift at Wendy’s. She and several co-workers said that 25 of the more than 30 non-management employees in their restaurant have pledged to strike. “We know this is going to be a long fight, but we’re going to fight it till we win,” said Caldwell, 31, who is raising four children alone on $7.50 an hour and was living in a homeless shelter until earlier this year.

The strikers cite frustration about their continued struggle to survive at the bottom of the labor market even as the broader economic news seems positive. “They say the economy is getting better, but we’re still making $7.50,” said Caldwell. “Nobody should work 40 hours a week and find themselves homeless, without enough money to buy them and their kids food, needing public assistance.”

Early reporting in the day documented actions in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Charlotte, New Orleans and elsewhere.

In Detroit, protesters protesting outside a McDonald’s early on Thursday were arrested after they locked arms and sat down in the street, blocking local traffic.

 

Dozens of people were arrested during a minimum wage protest outside a Detroit McDonald’s. (Credit: Bill Szumanski/WWJ Newsradio 950)The local CBS news affiliate reports:

 

Kaya Moody, a 20-year-old single mother who works at a different McDonald’s location in Detroit, has taken part in several protests and she admits it hasn’t been an easy sell.

“We always get the ‘Do you really think you deserve $15 an hour as a fast food worker?’ We get that a lot and I just feel like, who doesn’t deserve $15 an hour, you know? It’s a living wage. No one can survive off of $8.15 an hour, it’s almost impossible,” Moody told WWJ’s Ron Dewey.

The protests have been going on for about two years, but organizers have kept the campaign in the spotlight by switching their tactics every few months. In the past, supporters have showed up at a McDonald’s shareholder meeting and held strikes. The idea of civil disobedience arose in July when 1,300 workers held a convention in Chicago.

Kendall Fells, an organizing director for Fast Food Forward, said workers in a couple of dozen cities were trained to peacefully engage in civil disobedience ahead of the planned protests.

Dispatches and photos from other actions are being shared on Twitter under the #StrikeFastFood hashtag:

#StrikeFastFood Tweets

$15 Wage Wins in Seattle: ‘We Did This. Workers Did This.’

"15 Now" supporters make their way into Seattle City Hall for a council meeting in Seattle. (Photo: Stephen Brashear / Puget Sound Business Journal)

“15 Now” supporters make their way into Seattle City Hall for a council meeting in Seattle. (Photo: Stephen Brashear / Puget Sound Business Journal)

 

In historic and unanimous vote, city to give make its work force highest paid in the nation

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Less than six months after the start of an aggressive grassroots campaign, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a $15 minimum wage on Monday, the highest in the nation.

A supporter of the $15 an hour minimum wage holds a sign during a Seattle City Council meeting in which the council voted to raise the minimum wage in Seattle, Monday June 2, 2014. (Photo: Stephen Brashear / Puget Sound Business Journal) The measure passed by a 9-0 vote and was met with cheers and celebration among workers in the chamber and those gathered outside.

 

“We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first victory for 15 will inspire people all over the nation,” said councilor Kshama Sawant, whose victory last fall as a Socialist Alternative candidate and continued push for the $15 wage are credited with galvanizing the city-wide movement that pushed the council for the increase.

“A hundred thousand low-wage workers in Seattle will be seeing their wages raised to $15 an hour over the next 10 years. That would imply a transfer of roughly $3 billion from the top to the lowest paid workers,” she continued. “Such a transfer has not happened in so many decades because mostly what’s happened is the flow of wealth has been from the bottom up. This is really raising the confidence of working people around the country.”

“We did this. Workers did this. Today’s first victory for 15 will inspire people all over the nation.” —Kshama Sawant, city councilor

Working Washington—a coalition of individuals, neighborhood associations, immigrant groups, civil rights organizations, people of faith, and labor—also celebrated the victory. In a statement just ahead of the vote, the group said:

When Seattle fast food workers with Working Washington first called for $15, many thought it was well out of reach — an impossible dream, not a realistic demand. But the bold leadership of fast food workers, airport workers, grocery workers, and others transformed the public debate and changed what was possible.

A year ago, $15 was just a number on fast food strikers’ picket signs. Today it’s set to become reality for 100,000 Seattle workers.

It was not a complete and total victory for progressive coalition. Numerous amendments offered by Sawant to strengthen the new wage law, including speeding up its implementation, were defeated by the council. In the end, however, no one denied that it was only the relentless pressure from below that forced its historic, if compromised, passage.

In her speech following the vote, Sawant acknowledged the shortcomings of the bill, but called it an “historic victory” as she rose to explain the importance of how Seattle activists were able to bend the council, including those tied to large business interests, towards their will:

15 was not won at the bargaining table as the so-called “sensible compromise” between workers and business. It was not the result of the generosity of corporations or their Democratic Party representatives in government.

What was voted on in the city council was a reflection of what workers won on the street over this last year.

In 15 Now, groups of workers and activists met weekly, held mass conferences and debates, organized rallies, and engaged thousands of people around the city about the need for a living wage. We won the public debate – in a recent poll 74% of voters now support 15. We defeated the arguments of business in the corporate media.

Let this be our guide. At every stage of the struggle, corporations and their representatives, have sought to undermine our efforts. And future victories will also depend on the organization of working people fighting for our interests.

Writing for The Nation, John Nichols highlighted the aggressive stance of Sawant and her allies as he put the Seattle wage fight in its national context:

Sawant unsuccessfully proposed amendments to speed up wage hikes for employees of the largest businesses—those with over 500 employees—and to assure that tipped workers get the full benefit of the wage hike. And she objected to a provision that allows for paying some workers below the minimum, saying, “Any kind of teenage wage or sub-minimum wage goes against the principles of workers standing together. The sub-minimum wage is demanded and liked by businesses because it allows them to bring down wages in general. It’s harmful for workers as a whole.”

Sawant and her allies are not done with the fight. They are gathering signatures for a city charter amendment that would have large businesses paying $15-an-hour starting January 1, 2015, while small business and nonprofits would have a three-year phase-in period. The charter amendment will, if it qualifies for the ballot, face significant opposition from Big Business. And there will be those who suggest that the 15 Now activists are asking for more than can be reasonably obtained.

But just a year ago, there were plenty of folks who said $9-an-hour was an unreasonable goal. Now the debate in Seattle is about how quickly to go to $15. And that debate is spreading to communities nationwide.

In response to passage of the new Seattle wage hike, the International Franchise Association—which represents corporate chain stores and restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, and others—renewed their promise to sue the city over the new wage law. But as the Seattle Times reports, many local business owners welcomed the vote:

Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s ice cream, said the mandate will drive up her labor costs by $100,000 a year, but she expects to benefit from workers with more money to spend locally.

“A hundred thousand people next year will have more money in their pockets,” she said, referring to the estimated number of workers who now make less than $15. “They’ll have more money to buy ice cream.”

Neitzel has about 80 employees at six stores in Seattle. Last fall, she raised pay for her non-tipped employees to $15 from between $11 and $13.50.

She said another probable benefit from the higher minimum wage is reduced employee turnover.

“They’re so appreciative of the raise,” she said of her non-tipped employees. “Retention is great, and their quality of life has increased.”