Tens of Thousands To Strike, Following Election Defined By Rigged Economy
Above: Fight for 15 Protesters hold signs at a rally in support of minimum wage increase in New York City on April 15th, 2015. By Victor J. Blue for Getty.
Fight for $15: ‘We Won’t Back Down:’ Movement Demands: $15/hour, Union Rights, No Deportations, End to Police Killings of Black People, Hands off Americans’ Health Care
Chicago O’Hare Workers to Strike Kicking off Biggest-Ever Demonstrations at Nearly 20 of Nation’s Busiest Airports
Wave of Civil Disobedience to Hit McDonald’s Restaurants; Fast-Food Workers to Walk Off Jobs in 340 Citie
Nationwide Actions to Mark Fourth Anniversary of Movement that’s Changed Politics of Wages in America
NATIONWIDE –As newly-elected politicians and newly-empowered corporate special interests threaten an extremist agenda to move the country to the right, working Americans announced Monday that their four-year-old Fight for $15 will not back down and that any efforts to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies, will be met with unrelenting opposition.
To show their determination in the face of the seismic shifts in the political climate, workers in the Fight for $15 said Monday they will wage their most disruptive protests yet on Nov. 29, expanding their movement to nearly 20 airports serving 2 million passengers a day, and risking arrest via mass civil disobedience in front of McDonald’s restaurants from Detroit to Denver. Workers spanning the economy—including baggage handlers, fast-food cooks, home care workers, child care teachers and graduate assistants—will demand $15 and union rights, no deportations, an end to the police killings of black people, and politicians keep their hands off Americans’ health care coverage.
Hundreds of subcontracted baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the world’s fourth busiest, will strike Nov.29 to protest against unfair labor practices by their employers —including retaliation, intimidation, threats and harassment when workers attempt to join together to demand at least $15/hour and union rights. And thousands of fast-food cooks and cashiers will walk off their jobs to call on McDonald’s and other fast-food employers to raise wages to $15/hour and respect workers’ right to form a union without retaliation. Workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who won a path to $15 earlier this year, will also strike, demanding union rights.
In all, tens of thousands from coast to coast will protest Nov. 29 to underscore to the country’s biggest corporations that they must act decisively to raise pay for fast-food, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers, among others, and to let President-elect Donald Trump, members of Congress, governors, state legislators and other elected leaders know that the 64 million Americans paid less than $15/hour are not backing off their demand for $15/hour and union rights.
“Americans are united around our desire for a better future for our kids and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, Mo. who is paid just $7.90 an hour after eight years on the job and who plans to strike for $15 and union rights on Nov. 29. “We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender. And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.”
The wave of protests follows an election defined by workers’ frustration with a rigged economy that benefits the few at the top and comes exactly four years after 200 fast-food cooks and cashiers in New York City first walked off their jobs, sparking a movement for $15 and union rights that has compelled private-sector employers and local and state elected representatives to raise pay for 22 million Americans.
The election result underscored a deep economic uncertainty among voters frustrated that the recovery is not translating into better jobs across the economy. When given a chance to choose higher wages, voters overwhelming do so: all five minimum wage ballot initiatives passed on Election Day, with voters turning out to approve the measures in four states and one city that raise pay from between $12/hour to $15/hour. In the four states, “yes” votes exceeded the vote totals for either of the major parties’ presidential candidates – striking proof of the broad public support for raising wages across party lines and in different regions of the country.
By waging massive demonstrations right after the election, tens of thousands of people who work as airport baggage handlers and wheelchair attendants, fast-food cooks and cashiers, home care workers, higher education faculty members, early childhood teachers and in other industries are showing their commitment to hold politicians of all parties accountable for their responsibility to raise pay and strengthen union rights. Working Americans in the Fight for $15 changed the debate around wages in the country, and with Election Day over, they are taking to the streets—and risking arrest—to show that the time is now for the country’s leaders and corporations to act.
They are also taking to the streets to demand an end to structural racism and the police killings of black people, reject Republican calls to deport immigrants, call on politicians keep their hands off of American’s health care coverage.
Day of Disruption
At 6 am Nov 29— the precise moment workers walked off their jobs in 2012, launching the Fight for $15— thousands of fast-food workers plan to go on strike at McDonald’s and other restaurants in more than 340 cities from coast to coast, demanding $15/hour and union rights. Hundreds of fast-food cooks and cashiers, airport, home care, child care and higher education workers are expected to engage in the biggest-ever wave of civil disobedience to hit McDonald’s. They’ll be joined in risking arrest by elected officials and community leaders, including the Rev. William Barber II, architect of the Forward Together Moral Movement.
Beginning at noon, workers will take their protests to nearly 20 of the nation’s busiest airports, including Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Newark International Airport (EWR). Workers will send a message to the major airlines that it’s time they take responsibility for their standards of service and care for the nearly 2 million passengers who travel through those major airports each day and for the workers whose dedication and hard work help to generate $36 billion in profits for the aviation industry.
“Every day we make sure passengers get to their gates safely, get their luggage and get on a clean plane, but our families can’t get by,” said Nancy Vasquez, a skycap at Newark Liberty International Airport, who earns just $2.10/hour plus whatever unreliable tips she can get. “If huge corporations like the major airlines and McDonald’s paid us $15/hour and respected our right to form a union, our lives and this country would be very different. The Fight for $15 shows that we have to take action, and even risk arrest, and that’s what we’re going to do Nov. 29.”
That same day, McDonald’s will also be on the hot seat overseas, as the movement to hold the burger giant accountable to its workers continues to intensify globally. In Europe, where McDonald’s is already under fire for allegedly dodging more than €1.5 billion in taxesfrom 2009 to 2015, the European Parliament will hold a hearing Nov. 29 on petitions from British, Belgian and French unions on mistreatment of McDonald’s workers across the continent, including the widespread use in the United Kingdom of zero-hour contracts, in which workers are not guaranteed any hours; a bogus flexi-jobs program in Belgium that saps public coffers and undermines labor standards without created jobs; and a union-busting scheme in France. Protests are also expected by airport workers in Berlin and Amsterdam.
Poverty Pay Won’t Fly
Back in the U.S., the protests mark an intensification of the participation in the Fight for $15 of airport workers, who have been linking arms with fast-food and other underpaid workers as the movement has grown. Skycaps, baggage handlers and cabin cleaners point to jobs at the nation’s airports as a symbol of what’s gone wrong for workers and their jobs. Four decades ago, every job in an airport was a good, family-sustaining one. Workers worked for the major airlines, which paid a living wage, provided pensions and health care and respected workers’ right to a union. That’s no longer the case. Today, most airport workers are nonunion and are employed by subcontractors that pay low wages, without any benefits. Their jobs now represent the failures of a political and economic system geared towards the wealthy few and corporate profits at any cost.
Between 2002 and 2012 outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled, from 25 percent to 84 percent, while average hourly real wages across both directly-hired and outsourced workers declined by 45 percent, to $10.60/hour from more than $19/hour. Average weekly wages in the airport operations industry did not keep up with inflation, but instead fell by 14 percent from 1991 to 2011.
“Today’s low-wage airport jobs look a lot like those at McDonald’s, or in the home care or childcare fields, or even in our factories and universities,” said Oliwia Pac, 24 a wheelchair attendant, security officer and escort for minors at Chicago O’Hare International Airport who plans to strike Nov. 29. “This needs to change and we are going to keep joining together and speaking out until it does.”
America’s airports themselves are also a symbol of the concerted effort to erode the ability of working people to improve their jobs. President Reagan fired and permanently replaced 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, paving the way for a decades-long march by corporations and elected officials to systematically dismantle workers’ rights to join together on the job. By zeroing in on airports Nov. 29, workers are looking to transform a symbol of their decline into a powerful show of their renewed force.
$15/hour: From ‘Absurdly Ambitious to Mainstream’
The catalyst for that revival, the Fight for $15, launched Nov. 29, 2012, when 200 fast-food workers walked off their jobs at dozens of restaurants across New York City, demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. Since then it has grown into a global phenomenon that includes fast-food, home care, child care, university, airport, retail, building service and other workers across hundreds of cities and scores of countries. Workers have taken what many viewed as an outlandish proposition – $15/hour– and made it the new labor standard in New York, California, Seattle and Washington, D.C. Home care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15/hour statewide minimum wages and companies including Facebook, Aetna, Amalgamated Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Nationwide Insurance have raised pay to $15/hour or higher. Workers in nursing homes, public schools and hospitals have won $15/hour via collective bargaining.
All told, the Fight for $15 has led to wage hikes for 22 million underpaid workers, including more than 10 million who are on their way to $15/hour, by convincing everyone from voters to politicians to corporations to raise pay. The movement was credited as one of the reasons median income jumped last year by the highest percentage since the 1960s.
By joining together, speaking out and going on strike workers in the Fight for $15 have “elevated the debate around inequality in the U.S.” and “entirely changed the politics of the country.” Slate wrote that the Fight for $15 has completely “rewired how the public and politicians think about wages” and called it “the most successful progressive political project of the late Obama era, both practically and philosophically:” The New York Times wrote that the movement, “turned $15/hour “from laughable to viable,” and declared, “$15 could become the new, de facto $7.25;”and The Washington Post said that $15/hour has “gone from almost absurdly ambitious to mainstream in the span of a few years.”
This election year workers made the fight for $15 and union rights a hot button political issue in the race for the White House through an effort to mobilize underpaid voters. Workers dogged candidates throughout the primary and general election debates, calling on candidates to “come get our vote” and forcing presidential hopefuls to address their demands for $15/hour. Strikes and protests at more than a dozen debates forced candidates on both sides of the aisle to address workers’ growing calls for higher pay and union rights. This summer, the Democratic Party adopted a platform that includes a $15/hour minimum wage, and recently even Republican elected leaders, including Mr. Trump (who had earlier said wages are “too high”), began to break from their opposition to raising pay.
Voices From the Fight for $15
Marvette Hodge, a home care worker from Richmond, Virginia who is paid $9/hour, said: “The Fight for $15 has shifted the way our country talks about economic and racial injustice and inequality in our democracy. But our fight isn’t over, in fact, we are standing up in larger numbers to show that divisiveness has no place in this country. Our movement is resilient and unstoppable, and I will never stop fighting for an America where all work is valued and every family in every community has the opportunity to thrive.”
Omayra Gonzalez, a child care worker who lives in Tampa, Fla. with her son and is paid $12/hour, said: “I’m a child care worker because I value teaching young children kindness and respect, but after 20 years in the field I still can’t afford basic car repairs to get to and from work safely,” said Omayra Gonzalez who lives in Tampa, Fla. with her son and is paid $12/hour. “Our economy isn’t working for millions of Americans like me, and we won’t give any leeway on our demands for change. We’re more determined than ever to fight for $15, because a fair economy for workers and justice for all Americans are non-negotiable demands.”
Robert Chlala, a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California, said: “My parents emigrated from Lebanon and worked day and night to take care of our family and give me the chance to pursue higher education. Now, it’s my turn to make sure my colleagues and workers around the country have equal opportunities for a better life. I’ll do whatever it takes to win workers like me higher pay and union rights for all workers and fight tooth and nail against any efforts to deport immigrants or take away our healthcare. The Fight for $15 is here, we’re fired up, and we’re not going away.”