|‘We Won’t Back Down’
Richmond Fast-food Workers Strike, Prepare to Risk Arrest in Nationwide Fight for $15 Day of Disruption
Tens of Thousands Hit Streets Following Election Defined by Frustration with Rigged Economy
Nationwide Actions Mark Fourth Anniversary of Fight for $15
RICHMOND, VIRGINIA—Local fast-food cooks and cashiers walked off the job early Tuesday, kicking off a wave of strikes and civil disobedience by working Americans in the Fight for $15 that is expected to result in more than 1,000 arrests nationwide by day’s end, including more than 50 here in Richmond.
Holding signs , chanting “add some respect to my check,” and sharing their stories, underpaid workers stood outside McDonald’s on Broad St. to demand a wage increase to $15 per hour and union rights. Protests will intensify throughout the day. Following the morning action, workers will gather at Mount Moriah Church for a roundtable discussion on the effects of low wages and the state of the labor movement in Virginia in the wake of the election. They were also readying themselves for a major rush-hour protest, including civil disobedience, at McDonald’s located at 2011 Chamberlayne Avenue this evening at 5pm.
Throughout the day, working Americans in Richmond and around the country will wage their most disruptive protests yet to show they won’t back down to newly-elected politicians and newly-empowered corporate special interests who threaten an extremist agenda to move the country to the right. Fast-food, airport, child care, home care, child care, higher education and Uber workers will make it clear 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.
“We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” said Priscilla Evans, a fast food worker and new mom on strike today. “Working moms like me are struggling all across the country and until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder and ever more relentless.”
The strikes and protests in Richmond are part of a nationwide day of disruption that includes McDonald’s and other fast-food workers walking off their jobs in 340 cities from coast to coast, demanding $15 and union rights; baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and skycaps walking picket lines at Boston Logan International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport to protest against unfair labor practices, including threats, intimidation and retaliation when they tried to join together for higher pay and union rights ; Uber drivers in two-dozen cities idling their cars calling for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work; and hospital workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who won a path to $15 earlier this year, joining in too, fighting for union rights.
The wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and 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. A report released Tuesday by the National Employment Law Project shows the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises for working families since that first strike in 2012. That’s 10 times larger than the total raise received by workers in all 50 states under Congress’s last federal minimum wage increase, approved in 2007.
In all, tens of thousands of working people from coast to coast will protest Tuesday at McDonald’s restaurants from Durham to Denver and at 20 of the nation’s busiest airports, which carry 2 million passengers a day. They will underscore to the country’s biggest corporations that they must act decisively to raise pay and 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. In addition to $15 and union rights, working Americans will demand: no deportations, an end to the police killings of black people, and politicians keep their hands off Americans’ health care coverage.
“To too many of us who work hard, but can’t support our families, America doesn’t feel fair anymore,” said Oliwia Pac, who is on strike Tuesday from her job as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “If we really want to make America great again, our airports are a good place to start. These jobs used to be good ones that supported a family, but now they’re closer to what you’d find at McDonald’s.”
All over the country, working families are being supported in their protest by community, religious and elected leaders. In Chicago, U.S. Rep Jan Schakowsky walked the picket line with striking workers and Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested supporting strikers; while in New York City, councilmembers Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso got arrested alongside workers outside a McDonald’s in Lower Manhattan. In Durham, NC the Rev. William Barber II, founder of the Forward Together Moral Movement, is expected to risk arrest with striking McDonald’s workers later this afternoon, while in Kansas City, Mo. several dozen clergy members plan to get arrested alongside scores of fast-food workers.
While McDonald’s workers are striking and risking arrest in the U.S., the company is also on the hot seat Tuesday for its mistreatment of workers in Europe, where the company is already under scrutiny for allegedly dodging more than €1.5 billion in taxes from 2009 to 2015. The European Parliament’s Petition Committee held a hearing Tuesday, on three petitions filed by 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 Doesn’t Fly
Tuesday’s strikes by workers at O’Hare and Logan airports and the rush of protests at airports around the country 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 working Americans and their jobs. Four decades ago, every job in an airport was a good, family-sustaining one. Men and women worked directly for the major airlines, which paid a living wage, provided pensions and health care and respected Americans’ right to stick together in a union. That’s no longer the case. Today, most Americans who work at airports 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.
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 Americans’ right to join together on the job. By zeroing in on airports Nov. 29, worker-class families 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 in Richmond and across hundreds of cities and scores of countries. Working Americans 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. Union members working 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 working-class voters 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 worker families’ 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.
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