Fast-Food, Low-Wage Workers Across America Stage ‘Fight for 15’ Protests for Higher Pay, Union Rights
Thousands of fast-food and other low-wage workers took to the streets of nearly 300 cities and towns across America on Tuesday to call for a $15 hourly minimum wage and greater collective bargaining rights.
It was the largest day of action to date by the Fight for 15 movement, backed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other progressive action groups, as workers from McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Wendy’s and other restaurant chains joined forces with health and child care workers, grocery clerks and other low-wage employees as they left their jobs to attend rallies and marches throughout the day.
In New York, more than a thousand people showed up at a 6:30 a.m. demonstration that included an address by Mayor Bill de Blasio, one of many events that occurred throughout the day in the nation’s largest city.
“Is this the America we believe in? When someone works all day long and they can’t get by?” de Blasio asked the crowd of cheering protesters. “No, we deserve better… It’s simple, families in this city can’t live on the minimum wage now.”
The low-wage workers who attended that and other New York protests agreed with the mayor.
“The money I bring home can barely take care of my rent,” Alvin Major, a 50-year-old who works at KFC and who was among about 200 protesters who blocked traffic in Brooklyn, told Reuters. “We need a wage that could take care of our basic necessities.”
In Detroit, about 200 people braved early morning darkness and cold rain as they turned out to demonstrate outside a local McDonald’s.
“I’m here to fight for $15 and a union,” Lakecha Jackson, a 37-year-old mother of two who earns $8 an hour at that same McDonald’s, told USA Today. “That would be a lot for me.”
In Chicago, around 100 demonstrators blocked the drive-through of a McDonald’s, chanting “We work! We sweat! Put 15 on my check!”
Brigitte Perez, who earns $11 an hour working at a Del Taco restaurant in Glendale, California, told Reuters that she struggles to support her four children on her paltry paycheck.
“It’s really hard for me and for (my kids) to see me just leave out the door, trying to make ends meet. And then we’re on a budget, because we have to go paycheck to paycheck,” said Perez.
Healthcare workers have enthusiastically joined the Fight for 15 movement. In California, they have collected 500,000 signatures to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2021. Nationwide, nursing assistants earned a mean hourly wage of $12.62 and a mean annual wage of $26,250 as of May 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s not enough. It’s hard to feed their kids and send their children to college when they’re making that little,” Brynn Lloyd-Bollard, a spokeswoman for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, a New Jersey union, told MyCentralJersey.com.
Childcare providers, who rank among the lowest-paid workers in the nation—and very often cannot afford to pay for their own childcare, were also out in force at Tuesday’s protests.
“I takes a lot to take care of a kid, to care for families,” Lajua Manning told KCUR at a rally at a Kansas City, Missouri childcare center. “They are precious and delicate, and it’s constant work.”
Momentum is building across America for higher minimum wages. Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have all approved minimum wage hikes to $15, to be phased in over the next few years. San Francisco suburb Emeryville raised the bar even further with a $16 minimum wage, and there is serious talk about a raise to $19 in nearby Berkeley.
On Tuesday, both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, both Democrats, announced that public employees in their respective jurisdictions will be getting paid at least $15 per hour.
Cuomo said New York’s current minimum hourly wage of $8.75, while more than 20 percent higher than the federal minimum wage, was not enough to survive on.
“If you work full time, you should have a decent lifestyle for you and your family,” said Cuomo at a raucous rally in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday. “You can’t pay for housing and food and clothing on $18,000 a year, period, and that’s what today is all about.” Cuomo slammed McDonald’s and other fast-food companies, accusing them of perpetrating “a scam on the taxpayers of this country,” a reference to how many low-wage workers rely upon billions of dollars in government assistance to make up for the lack of a living wage paid by their employers.
“This city was built by working people,” said Peduto, who was flanked by dozens of low-wage workers when he made his announcement in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “Nobody who puts in 40 hours should have to live in poverty.”
Just how much is a living wage? It all depends on where you live. According to the Living Wage Project, a single adult living in San Francisco needs to earn at least $14.37 to get by, a single parent with one child requires at least $29.37 and a family of two working adults and two children would require a minimum wage of at least $17.85. At the other end of the scale, a single adult in Toledo, Ohio could get by on $9.03 an hour, a single parent with one child could survive on $19.70 and a family of two working adults and two children would need a minimum wage of $13.27 or more.
A recently-published study by the Alliance for a Just Society claims that even $15 isn’t enough. According to the report, in much of the country, a single adult earning $15 an hour would still have to cut back on essentials like food and medicine. A true livable wage would amount to no less than $16.87 an hour.
All three of the Democratic presidential candidates have voiced their support for a $15 minimum wage. Frontrunner Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for Fight for 15 ahead of Tuesday’s day of action.
Speaking to a large crowd of low-wage workers outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said the Fight for 15 protesters “are having a profound impact.”
“People are raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour,” said Sanders. “And you know who started it? You did. You started the movement. Now we’ve got to finish the job. Fifteen bucks and a union.”
Almost all of the Republican presidential candidates, on the other hand, came out in staunchly opposed to raising the minimum wage during last night’s Fox Business Channel debate.
“I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is,” frontrunner Donald Trump said when asked if he would raise the minimum wage. “People have to go out, they have to work really hard and they have to get into that upper stratum. But we can’t do this (raise the minimum wage) if we’re going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”
“Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases,” Ben Carson, the other GOP frontrunner, asserted. “How do we allow people to ascend the ladder of opportunity rather than how do we give them everything and keep them dependent?”
Fast-food and other low-wage industry lobby groups staunchly oppose raising the minimum wage to $15, arguing that such a move would threaten growth and stifle hiring. According to the National Restaurant Association, a $15 base would leave employers with no choice but to replace workers with machines.
“Fifteen dollars is too far, too fast,” spokeswoman Christin Fernandez told USA Today.
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