On Nov. 29, 2012, over 100 fast food workers in New York City walked off the job to demand that their wages be increased to $15 an hour and to finally have a voice in their workplaces through union representation. That walkout was the beginning of a movement—a movement that articulated and emerged out of the need for human dignity and democracy in the workplace; a movement that has forcefully asserted that highly profitable industries dominated by multi-billion and multi-million dollar corporations can afford to pay their workers a living wage and allow workers to safely voice their concerns and address issues that impact them and their work. Out of those worker-led demonstrations a decade ago the Fight for $15 and a Union was born, a global campaign pushing to increase wages and improve working conditions for workers in low-wage jobs, from the fast food industry to retail.
Fight for 15
This was the second week a consortium of unions led garment industry workers to strike for two consecutive days in Port-au-Prince, less than one month after organizing demonstrations in the northeast of the country at the Caracol Industrial Park, to demand approximately $15 per day to produce apparel for brands and stores such as Hanes, New Balance, Champion, Gildan Activewear, Gap, and Walmart. This struggle for higher wages dates back to the establishment of the first industrial parks (garment manufacturing parks) under the dictatorship of François Duvalier during the Cold War. But it has to be situated within a larger context of struggle for living wages by (agricultural) workers since the first US occupation (1915-1934) that led to the institution of the minimum wage in Haiti after the removal of the troops.
In 2022, a record number of states and localities will increase their minimum wages—10 years after fast-food workers first went on strike to demand $15 and a union. These record increases are the result of underpaid workers organizing, demanding, and winning higher wages. This movement has not only led to the adoption of higher state and local minimum wages but has helped seed new worker activism and mobilization across our economy. On January 1, 2022 (December 31, 2021 for workers in New York), the minimum wage will increase in 21 states and 35 cities and counties. In 33 of those jurisdictions, the wage floor will reach or exceed $15 per hour for some or all employers. Later in 2022, four additional states and 22 local jurisdictions will also lift their wage floors—17 of them to $15 or more.
On Oct. 7, the New Orleans City Council ratified a $15-an-hour minimum wage for city workers, effective in January. This will be $3.81 more than the paltry $11.19 minimum currently in place. Because of sky-rocketing inflation, $15 dollars doesn’t go as far as it did even a few months ago. Nevertheless, the raise is a major victory for the working-class movement here, and will be welcomed by city workers struggling to make ends meet. As reported in Struggle-La Lucha back in July, the council was forced to move forward when the firefighters’ union and allies marched into the chambers on July 1, right in the middle of a session. When put on the spot, the council members voted unanimously that they would find the money for a raise. Now it’s official.
Fast food workers in 15 cities across the country went on a one-day strike on February 16, to demand that their employers—including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s—pay them $15 an hour and give them union rights. The effort, which is part of the nationwide Fight for 15 movement, comes as lawmakers in Washington debate enacting a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage as part of President Biden’s first COVID-19 relief package. The strikes also honor Black History Month by emphasizing the generations of low pay and lacking workplace protections among Black workers, historical inequities that have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and which have left Black Americans particularly vulnerable to both the virus and its economic devastation.
The rank and file workers that came before us said a union was not the union hall nor the labor temple, nor was it the elected union officials that come and go. The union was its people—the honest, hardworking membership. Comrades of sweat and toil pushed and prodded too far for the sake of an industrial tyrant’s profits. Workers who reached a point and said, “enough is enough,” who joined together, demanded change, and organized. And in the current moment of economic turmoil and political upheaval, workers are experiencing quaint evocations of moments gone by—as if looking through an open window and scanning through the decades of militant union history, scouring the past to understand and confront today’s clear and present danger.
Shannon Johnson grew up with a birth defect in her throat that required multiple surgeries. Stuck in the hospital, she found solace in Disney movies. “I could get so immersed in the characters,” she said, recalling how she drew them on the walls of her bedroom. “It looked like a princess’ castle.” Johnson, 40, now works in food service at Disneyland Resort, a set of hotels next to the theme park, in Anaheim, California. She said her hourly wage is $11, the state minimum. When she leads a shift, it’s $12, she said. Her hours vary significantly from one week to the next, as does her paycheck. She eats one meal per day, often consisting of a can of tuna and celery sticks. She and her approximately 30,000 coworkers are asking for a raise, but not from Disneyland Resort. They’re counting on the residents of Anaheim. After contract negotiations with Disneyland Resort stalled, a coalition of unions submitted a city ballot measure this month that would require the resort and other large employers to pay an $18 minimum wage.
The reported settlement of a landmark case against McDonald’s at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deals a blow to Fight for $15’s union ambitions, widening the chasm between the campaign’s astonishingly successful wage demand and its faltering union aspirations. The settlement, negotiated by Trump-appointed NLRB General Counsel Peter Robb, requires McDonald’s to pay damages for retaliatory measures taken against workers who organized with Fight for $15. However, the agreement prevents a ruling in the case, dealing a blow to labor.
The Fight for $15 held protests calling for a $15 per hour wage and a union. Thousands walked off their jobs in two dozen cities. The protests, which were joined by the Poor People's Campaign, are part of a campaign by fast food and other low wage workers. The protests on February 12 are being held on the 50th anniversary of the day when the famous Memphis sanitation workers strike began. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. participated in that strike which demanded safety of workers, a living wage and recognition of their union. King was organizing the Poor People's Campaign at the time of his assassination in Memphis. According to the compensation research company PayScale, fast food workers make an average of $8.28 per hour. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour leaves workers unable to afford a two-bedroom rental apartment in any U.S. state. The organizers of today's protests are planning six weeks of "direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience" starting on Mother's Day.
Thousands of fast-food cooks and cashiers announced Thursday they will walk off their jobs and protest nationwide Feb. 12 – the 50th anniversary of the historic Memphis sanitation strike - carrying on the fight for higher wages and union rights led by hundreds of black municipal workers whose 1968 walkout became a rallying cry of the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Workers in the Fight for $15 declared they will participate in six weeks of direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience beginning Mother’s Day as part of the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, uniting two of the nation’s most powerful social movements in a common fight for strong unions to lift people of all races out of poverty.
Gov. Reynolds and Republican state lawmakers have waged a string of attacks on workers’ unions in recent years. Last February, then-Gov. Terry Branstad signed into law a bill endorsed by then-Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds curbing collective bargaining rights for thousands of public sector workers in the state. The law strips workers of the right to bargain over healthcare and other benefits and forces workers to recertify their union before each bargaining session. In March, Branstad signed into law a bill passed by the Republican legislature blocking all localities from raising their minimum wage, nullifying local wage increases that had been passed in Polk, Johnson, Linn and Wapello Counties.
By Marni von Wilpert for Economic Policy Institute. On August 28, 2017, low-wage workers in St. Louis, Missouri, became the latest victims of state preemption laws. “Preemption” in this context refers to a situation in which a state law is enacted to block a local ordinance from taking effect—or dismantle an existing ordinance. In this case, St. Louis had raised its minimum wage above the state minimum—but was then forced to lower it back down when the Missouri state legislature preempted the local ordinance. Ironically, state preemption of labor standards has historically been used for good: to ensure that minimum labor standards are applied statewide. It is only in recent years that it has been so frequently used to take earnings and protections away from workers. This report looks at the rising use of preemption by state legislatures to undercut local labor standards.
By Staff of NELP and Fight for $15. Since the Fight for $15 began in November 2012, more than 40 cities and counties, and more than 20 states have adopted minimum wage increases. NELP estimates that about 19 million workers have won almost $62 billion in annual raises, and a growing numbers of U.S. states and cities in just the last few years are adopting a minimum wage of $15 per hour. SeaTac, Washington, which was the first city to do so, approved a $15 minimum wage in 2013. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee brokered an agreement between labor and business to place a $15 minimum wage on the November 2014 ballot, which the voters overwhelmingly approved, and the Los Angeles city council approved a $15 minimum wage in 2015. California and New York approved a statewide $15 minimum wage in 2016. About 10 million workers have benefitted from these $15 minimum wage laws so far. An increase in the Minneapolis minimum wage to $15 per hour will benefit 23 percent of workers in Minneapolis, or approximately 71,000 people.
By Joel Mendelson for Jobs with Justice - People working for the city of Atlanta received welcome news as the City Council unanimously passed a budget raising their wages. Starting on July 1, 2017, base pay for city employees will rise from $10.10 to $13 an hour. Even better news? By mid-2019, all city employees will earn a minimum of $15 an hour. Now more than 1,000 people who sweep the city streets, maintain local parks, and put out fires will have a better chance at making ends meet. And this raise happened thanks to Atlanta Jobs With Justice. The coalition of labor unions, community groups, faith-based organizations, student organizations, and individuals is on the front lines of organizing Atlantans to achieve economic and social justice. In 2013, Atlanta Jobs With Justice held the city’s first Fight For $15 rally in support of brave men and women in the fast-food industry who went on strike to speak up for family-sustaining jobs. The event launched the coalition’s community-wide efforts to secure a long-overdue raise for those who make Atlanta work. The wage increase is a notable development given that a study released this month showed a working person in Georgia needed to earn at least $16.79 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The poverty rate of neighborhoods a stone’s throw from Atlanta’s City Hall approaches 70 percent.