By BILL ONASCH
[This post contains three articles on the $15 minimum wage movement.]
Fight for Fifteen 4/15 — It’s an easy date to remember; April 15 is income tax day in the USA. This year there will be marches and rallies in most cities across the country. But these protests are not against the tax—unfair as it may be. Instead, they are the next step forward in mobilizing broad working-class support in the communities for boosting pay of the working poor to at least $15 an hour.
There are two distinct components of this movement. One is union based, targeting specific employers or industries. SEIU’s Fifteen and a Union campaigns in Fast Food, Home Care, and Airport Service industries have been the vanguard, but there have been significant efforts by UFCW, AFSCME, and UE as well—going after Big Box Retail, Logistics, and state-funded child care workers.
There has also been a complementary fight by 15 Now coalitions working to win municipal and state 15 dollar minimum wage laws covering all workers. The first big breakthrough for this wing came in Seattle, where 100,000 low-paid workers are receiving substantial raises in stages on the road to fifteen. While state and local legal opportunities and obstacles vary considerably, there are promising coalitions in Oregon and Minnesota among others.
These actions have already won some material gains through modest hikes in the minimum wage in several states and cities, as well as “voluntary” raises by all of the major Big Box retail chains. Most have been in the $9-$10 range. While any raise is welcomed by the low paid, these have to be considered token down payments on the 15 goal.
Fast Food has not been so “generous.” Their industry trade group recently went to court in Seattle seeking exemption from the new minimum wage law for franchises of national chains. So far, their defense of “small business” has been rejected, but they will likely continue to pay lawyers $400 an hour to try to get out of 15 for their workers.
I’ve been on the SEIU mailing list since back in the day of Chairman Andy’s Purple Army. It’s not often that I have occasion to favorably quote top union officials, but an excerpt from an e-blast from current SEIU president Mary Kay Henry is worth passing along:
“This movement that was started by fast-food cooks and cashiers has exploded to include people who work at Walmart, airport baggage handlers and passenger service attendants, home care providers, child care workers, adjunct college faculty, and other underpaid people who want to create jobs that pay people enough to actually live on. Together, we are fighting for an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.
“Powerful CEOs could pay people more, but they simply choose not to. When large, profitable companies attempt to pay as little as they can get away with, even full-time jobs can pay so little that workers qualify for food stamps. Working moms and dads can’t afford basic needs for their kids. Young people can’t afford to go to school to upgrade their skills. Entire neighborhoods fall behind.
“When we demand and win a higher floor for wages, we will help not just individuals and families but also our communities and the larger economy. That’s why it’s so important that you are with us to Fight for $15 on 4/15.”
Though I have said it before, it deserves repeating—this Fight for Fifteen is, in my opinion, the single most important venue for working-class action in the USA today. I urge every reader to join the April 15 action in your area and to try to bring along some family, friends, and coworkers too.
Please click here to RSVP and endorse the action. You will be offered a search box to locate the demonstration nearest your Zip Code. All Out 4/15!
From kclabor.org/wordpress. Photo: Fight for Philly
Connecticut organizes for $15
By CHRISTINE MARIE
In Connecticut, activists have been going out two and three times a weekend to meet low-wage workers and urge them to join the campaign for $15 and a union. Activists meet a designated time and place and then fan out to the many fast -food joints situated in a certain shopping area, armed with talking points and pledge cards.
Chris, a Hartford Teamster who works at UPS, said that his experience at a McDonald’s restaurant was very moving. “Workers we met on their shift change looked tired but were eager to talk about what a pay raise would mean to them,” he said.
Some, sensing the watchful gaze of management, were a bit tentative, Chris reported, but others, he said, “showed no fear.” Most volunteer organizers decided that it was best to wait around and approach workers when they were outside taking their break or eating their lunch.
One of the talking points was that fast-food employees in Denmark were making the equivalent of $20 an hour. The folks behind the counter expressed surprise, of course, and once the volunteers had their attention, they went on to tell the story of the tough five-year campaign that was waged to get the union that won this wage.
All this union talk attracted the attention of some Walmart workers eating at McDonald’s on their break. Once they heard the talking points, they announced that they would bring coworkers to the April 15 Hartford action for $15.
Volunteers did not do all the talking. They also did a lot of listening and heard some powerful stories about the struggle to live on today’s minimum wage. Emily, a Connecticut state worker, spent some time hearing the story of a kind female Subway worker who had been employed there for 15 years, made $10.10 an hour, and had trouble making her rent payment.
A student volunteer, Kevin, was surprised to meet a recent immigrant from Africa at Dunkin’ Donuts, who was moved to tears when he realized that someone really cared to hear his tale.
The restaurant canvassing has affected the volunteer organizers as deeply as the low-wage workers they have met. It is turning out to be an addictive and politically empowering experience and volunteers return again and again.
$15 wage floor won for some Portland workers
By ANN MONTAGUE
PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon is one of many states with a preemption law that prevents cities from having a higher minimum wage than the state minimum wage. In order to work around this undemocratic law, 15 Now Portland has been working to update Portland’s Fair Wage Policy (FWP). Since the state law does not prevent the Portland city council from raising wages of city workers or workers contracted by the city, 15 Now decided to work to update the FWP.
When the FWP was first passed in 1998, city workers and contractors had to be paid at least $7 an hour. The state minimum wage is currently $9.25 an hour.
15 Now conducted hearings in conjunction with Jobs With Justice and SEIU 49, which represent city-contracted workers. In February, the Portland city council voted unanimously to increase the minimum wage for city workers to $15 an hour. They amended the Fair Wage Policy, which sets a new floor for 173 full-time city workers and contractors.
The workers covered by the new policy are janitors, parking attendants, and security officers. It will not cover 1800 seasonal and part-time workers, mostly in the Parks Bureau. These workers packed the city council chambers, and 30 of them testified.
15 Now celebrated the victory for those workers who will see an increase and issued the statement: “We still have much more work to do. There are contractors and part-timers who have been left out of the revised Fair Wage Policy that need to be included. We need to win $15 for all city workers, for all working people in the City of Portland, and for the whole State of Oregon.”