By ERNIE GOTTA
Dozens of SEIU members and supporters rallied in support of fast-food workers at a service plaza in Darien, Conn., on Aug. 28. These workers are fighting to reclaim potentially millions of dollars in stolen wages through unpaid benefits or the additional payment required by the Connecticut Standard Wage Law. 32BJ SEIU, the union that organizes the janitors at the same service plazas North and South along I-95, have filed a wage theft complaint with the state on behalf of the workers.
In their pursuit to maximize profits, McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Subway franchise owners like George Michell and Paul Landino, both who have been named in the complaint, are using intimidation tactics and threats of termination to keep workers from fighting back. The intimidation is so bad that only one fast-food worker named Josh walked off the job to speak at the rally, saying, “We need better pay.”
Juan Hernandez, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, said during the rally, “It’s wrong that these workers are being intimidated for their efforts to form a union. … We’re going to fight until the workers have a union!”
A number of politicians, union leaders, and community groups spoke in support of the workers. Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, said, “The number one reason workers join a union is not for money … it’s not for the benefits … the number one reason workers join a union is to have a voice on the job.”
The Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance (CIRA) connected the struggle of immigrant workers and fast-food workers. CIRA member Ana Maria Rivera Forastieri said, “An injury to one is an injury to all. … You [32BJ] have been on the front lines with us fighting for immigrant rights, and we will be there with you until you win.”
Similarly, Shadei Gordon, a fast-food worker in Brooklyn at a McDonald’s owned by George Michell,, connected the Fight for $15 and the ongoing struggle to win a union. Shadei said, “We fast-food workers lit the fire that won $15 an hour in New York. … We also want a union to defend those gains.”
Since 2012 the mass mobilizations and militancy of fast-food workers have made a number of gains for low-wage workers across the country. Democrats and Republicans who bend over backwards for the needs of big business took notice as more than 60,000 workers took to the streets on April 15, 2015. The result was that in many states legislators were forced to pass laws increasing the minimum wage.
Yet not one fast-food shop in seven years has secured a union. Workers like Shadei and Josh know that without the collective strength of union recognition any of the gains they’ve won can easily be erased. Many are left wondering what it will take to secure a union for some of the lowest paid and worst treated workers in the country.
Fast food workers on the shop floor hold the key to winning a union in their millions, just like the rank-and-file-led organizing drives of low-wage industrial workers in the 1930s, which changed the living standards for the entire working class. There are more than 3 million fast-food workers, many from oppressed Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities in the U.S. If these workers take the lead to organize committees in their restaurants and demand a union, they can win. And it will be a historic win that fundamentally changes the conception that fast-food workers deserve low-paying and precarious jobs.