Government contract workers strike for a living wage and unionization of their jobs

Who employs the most low-wage workers in the US?

According to a report published by Demos, it’s the US government.

About 2 million workers, who provide services funded by the federal government either directly through outsourcing contracts or through grants and subsidies to companies that perform work for the government or the public, make $12 an hour or less.

About 500 of these workers on April 15 staged a one-day strike in Washington DC to demand better pay and the unionization of their jobs.

They were joined by another 500 supporters at a rally at the Capitol.

“(These workers) feed the generals in the Pentagon, they also personally serve US senators, some of whom are running to be the next president of the United States,” said Joseph Geevarghese of Good Jobs Nation, the organizer of the April 22 strike at the rally. “These workers strike because they want our nation to know that their taxpayer dollars are keeping everyday Americans in poverty.”

In addition to the Senate and Pentagon, striking workers work at the Department of Education, Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, the Capitol Visitors Service, and for the National Park Services providing custodial, maintenance, food, transportation, and other services.

They work for companies such as Compass Global, an international outsourcing company, Sabree Environmental and Construction, Inc., which describes itself as “a full service provider and defense contractor with multifaceted capabilities,” and Open Top Sightseeing, owned by Big Bus Tours, another international company that provides bus sightseeing service all over the world.

The striking workers want President Obama to sign an executive order that will ensure that government contracts are awarded to companies that pay a living wage of at least $15 an hour, provide benefits, and respect collective bargaining rights. They’re calling their proposed executive order the Model Employer Executive Order.

One of the workers on strike is Bertrand Olotara, who wrote an opinion piece recently published in the Guardian.

“I am walking off my job because I want the presidential hopefuls to know that I live in poverty,” writes Olotara, who makes $12 an hour as a cook in the Senate office building.

Olotara has to work a second job and still has trouble making ends meet. He’s a single father and relies on food stamps to keep his children fed.

Olotara works for Compass Global.

Another worker who was on strike is Sonia Chavez who along with her husband cleans offices in the Education Department building.

Officially Chavez works for Ace Janitorial Services, but according to Good Jobs Nation, Ace is a front for the more high-profile Sabree Construction and Environmental.

Chavez, who is paid only $9.50 an hour, has charged Sabree with wage theft and she along with her co-workers are seeking $472,500 in back pay that they are owed.

“My husband and I are federal contract workers who clean the office of the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,” said Chavez at a media conference. “The Secretary of Education likes to speak about a “Race to the Top” on education. But the truth is we also need a “Race to the Top” on wages.”

Providing services for the government hasn’t always been low-wage, low-benefit work.

Before the government began privatizing many of these services, some of the work paid decent wages, came with benefits, and allowed some workers to establish a toe hold in the middle class.

“Jobs that provided a path to the middle class for million in the past are now creating a vast army comprised of the working poor,” reads a report on government contract labor published by Good Jobs Nation.

Women and people of color have been especially hard hit since the government joined the race to the bottom.

According to Good Jobs Nation, 70 percent of the federal government’s contract workers are women and 45 percent are people of color.

74 percent of the government’s contract workers make $10 an hour or less, 60 percent receive no benefits, and 36 percent receive some form of public assistance.

“Our nation cannot boast of being the land of the free, while allowing companies to pay wages that enslave its citizens to debt, poverty, and an inability to provide a decent living for themselves, their children and generations to come,” said Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, director of public witness for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office, at the strike’s media conference.

“The US government should not be America’s biggest low wage job creator,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders at the media conference. Sanders went on to say that “if you work 40 hours a week, you should make enough to take care of your kids and your family.”

Despite intimidation, Lear workers continue their fight for a healthy work environment

Kimberly King of Selma, Alabama has asthma.

Her asthma developed after she began working at the local Renosol Seating plant, owned and operated by the Lear Corporation.

King is not alone. According to an NBC report, eight Lear workers at the Renosol plant now have serious respiratory problems that they didn’t have before going to work at Lear’s Selma plant, which employs about 80 production workers. Of those eight, four have asthma.

Lear makes foam cushions for car seats and headrests at its Selma factory and sells them exclusively to Hyundai.

It uses a chemical called toluene diisocyanate (TDI) to make the foam cushions. Exposure to TDI can cause sensitization to TDI which can lead to asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.

When King spoke out publicly for better health and safety at the plant, Lear fired her. For good measure, Lear filed suit against her charging King with defamation of character.

Because King had been cooperating with staff from the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in an investigation of Lear’s Selma plant, Lear’s over the top reaction struck the US Labor Department as an attempt to obstruct OSHA’s investigation.

Consequently, the department filed a suit against Lear charging the corporation with obstruction and obtained a temporary restraining order that prevents Lear from firing, suing, threatening to sue, or intimidating its current and former employees.

The temporary restraining order is the latest development in a story that began last year when Lear workers including King asked OSHA to investigate health and safety conditions at their plant.

OSHA’s initial investigation resulted in fines and citations for Lear, and the agency found sufficient evidence to warrant a more exhaustive review of health and safety conditions at the plant.

As part of its investigation, OSHA interviewed King and other Lear workers.

In March King, who is also active among workers at the Lear plant who are trying to form a union, tried to deliver a letter to Hyundai headquarters in Montgomery, Alabama.

The letter asked Hyundai to urge Lear, its sole contractor for the foam cushions used in Hyundai cars manufactured in Alabama, to improve health and safety conditions at its plant.

When King, who is also a leader of the Selma Workers Organizing Committee, returned to work after the visit, Lear fired her and then a few days later filed suit against her.

King had taken other action to promote health and safety at the plant that may have provoked Lear’s ire as well.

After the United Auto Workers, which has been assisting the Lear workers in their effort to improve health and safety at the plant, arranged to have occupational safety experts at Yale University test the blood of a sample of Lear workers for traces in TDI, King passed out blood testing kits to nine Lear workers who then had their blood drawn by local physicians.

The blood samples were sent to Yale. NBC reports that four workers “tested positive for TDI sensitization that would be consistent with related asthma or other respiratory illnesses.”

Adam Wiznewski, a Yale research scientist involved in the testing, told NBC that the fact that the tests showed worker sensitization to TDI was “cause for concern.”

Within the next two weeks, the judge who issued the temporary restraining order will hold a hearing to determine whether the injunction against Lear should stay in place.

In the meantime, workers at Lear’s Selma plant are saying that they will continue their fight to improve health and safety at Lear.

“I’ve seen all the medication Kim needs to take to help with her breathing. I’ve seen her coughing until it hurts,” said Letasha Irby, who has worked at the Hyundai supplier in Selma since 2006. “It’s shameful and alarming that Lear would try to silence workers standing up for our safety rather than simply accepting responsibility for providing a safe workplace. Workers at this plant are going to continue standing up for the good jobs and safe conditions that this community deserves.”

Tennessee adjunct faculty and graduate students join the Fight for $15

Adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville on April 15 joined fast food and other low-wage workers at a local McDonald’s to demand that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.

After rallying with their low-wage cohorts, the higher education workers board a freedom ride bus bound for St. Louis where they joined more low-wage workers participating in the national general strike for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The participating adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants are members of United Campus Workers (UCW), a statewide union of faculty, graduate students, and classified staff who make higher education work but are paid poverty and near-poverty wages. UCW is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.

UCW members had planned to organize a Teach Out on poverty wages in the US as show of solidarity with the April 15 general strike, but inclement weather forced them to make other plans.

“We’re standing together with fast food workers this April 15‬ as they help lead the fight for $15 and a‪ u‬nion,” said a message on the UCW website announcing the Teach Out and other support activity for the Fight for $15. “Our state leads the country in poverty wage jobs–from fast food workers to adjuncts, custodians, and secretaries on our campuses. It’s going to take solidarity to win.”

UCW had urged faculty to show their solidarity with the striking low-wage workers by teaching their classes out of doors on April 15 and using a portion of their class time to educate students about why 60,000 low-wage workers and their supporters in more than 200 US cities were striking for a $15 an hour minimum wage.

UCW even prepared a lesson plan on the low-wage economy to assist those who wanted to participate in the Teach Out.

One of the main points in the lesson plan is that low-wage work is no longer a tiny fraction of the overall economy. Low-wage work is spreading throughout the economy, and a college degree no longer guarantees decent paying work.

In fact many highly educated people are working at UT Knoxville and other universities in Tennessee for very low wages.

Adjunct faculty at UT Knoxville are paid on average $2,700 per course per semester, says the lesson plan. “If an adjunct teaches three courses a semester, her income would fall below the poverty line.”

These poverty wages are the result of the UT Knoxville administration’s attempt to reduce labor costs after state leaders reduced funding for higher education, so that they wouldn’t have to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Unfortunately, lower labor costs have not resulted in lower tuition for students. Since 2008, tuition and fees at UT Knoxville have increased by 79 percent.

Students may think that they can avoid poverty wages by choosing the right major and landing a good paying job. Unfortunately, those good paying jobs are a small share of the overall job market.

The largest share of today’s job market are low-wage jobs such as those in the retail, hospitality, health care, and social services sectors of the economy.

John Schmid reporting for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes about the rise of the low-wage economy.  According to Schmid, there is some growth in good paying jobs among high tech workers, but low-wage jobs “have broadened outward like a pyramid with a disproportionately wide base.”

In St. Louis, where the Knoxville freedom ride ended, workers at a McDonald’s walked off the job and were cheered by a crowd of supporters holding signs reading Show Me $15, the name of the organization leading the Fight for $15 in Missouri.

Later in the day about 1,000 St. Louis fast food, retail, child care, and health care workers joined adjunct faculty and students for a rally and march at Washington University.

With low-wage work becoming the norm, the fight for a decent minimum wage is now more important than ever.

“This is a fight for equal opportunity, dignity, gender pay equality, and racial justice,” said UCW about the Fight for $15 on its website. “It’s a fight for what’s right. And it’s going to take all of us. We’re already turning the tide in favor of working people and our families, on campus and across this state.”



Portland airport commission approves minimum labor standards

Workers at Portland International Airport (PDX) recently made progress in their campaign to improve their working conditions when the commission that overseas operations at the airport agreed to a framework for addressing the workers’ grievances.

The workers, who work for different contractors, provide essential support services at the airport including loading and unloading baggage, cleaning airplane cabins, fueling airplanes, working in the airport’s restaurants and shops, and doing other work that keeps the airport operating smoothly.

The Port of Portland Board of Commissioners, who oversee operations at PDX, on April 8 voted 7-1 to adopt the PDX Workplace Initiative that outlines minimum labor standards for work at the airport.

Details about how to achieve the minimum labor standards will be worked out over the course of the next six months by the PDX Worker Benefit Group.

“I’m just so happy at last something changed. We are all just so happy and thankful something is happening for people working at the airport,” said Kasil Kapriel, a customer service representative to GoLocal PDX News.

Kapriel has been active in Our Airport, a group of PDX workers formed to improve working conditions at PDX. She recently testified before a state legislative committee in Salem, Oregon about the need to raise the minimum wage.

Meg Niemi, president of SEIU Local 49, which has been supporting the airport workers, called the minimum labor standards a good first step but said that more needs to be done.

“We hope the Port will continue to listen to workers on the ground and hold airlines . . . accountable for making sure that jobs at the airport are good jobs.”

In the past, airport jobs were good jobs, but since the airline business was deregulated, airlines have been outsourcing good-pay jobs to contractors that pay low wages, don’t provide good benefits, and often treat their employees as if they were a disposable commodity.

In February, reports Bloomberg, United announced that it will be outsourcing 1,100 ramp agent and customer representative jobs at 12 airports. In November, the company outsourced 600 similar jobs.

Frontier in January announced that it will outsource 1,160 ramp, baggage, customer service, and call center reservation jobs at Denver International Airport .

United has already contracted with Simplicity Ground Services to take over the work of some of United’s former employees.

Simplicity is owned by Menzies Aviation, which describes Simplicity as “our new ‘low cost’ brand.”

Simplicity operates at a number of airports in the US. Starting pay for Simplicity ramp agents ranges from $9 to $12 an hour depending on the airport.

Local 49 recently conducted a survey of contractor employees at PDX to determine what their working conditions are like.

Of those responding to the survey, 37 percent said that they were making the state’s minimum wage of $9.50 an hour, 67 percent said that their employer doesn’t offer benefits, 41 percent said that they were exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job, and half said that didn’t have the equipment or supplies they needed to do their work.

The report on the results of the survey also said that airport workers fear retaliation if they try to improve their working conditions or talk to other workers about joining a union. They also are concerned about under staffing and high employee turnover rates, both of which lead to customer service lapses.

The minimum labor standards initiative adopted by the commission seeks to address some of the poor conditions identified in Local 49’s survey.

PDX’s new minimum labor standards seek to ensure that all airport employees work in safe and healthy environment, have access to benefits including health care insurance, receive adequate training, and have some job security.

The new labor standards include measures aimed at reducing the high turnover rate, whose average among contractors at PDX has been 60 percent for the last three years.

The commissioners also said that they would remain neutral in any union organizing drive among airport workers and urged contractors to do the same.

The commissioners, however, remained silent on the need to raise wages of airport workers.

Despite this particular shortcoming, workers involved in the campaign to improve working conditions at PDX called the PDX Workplace Initiative’s new minimum labor standards a victory.

“This is the beginning of changes for the workers,” said Gladys Hernandez, a customer service representative who is still paid the minimum wage after seven years on the job, to The Oregonian.

Sen. Sanders: Educate, organize, and mobilize to revitalize America

Speaking before a standing room only audience at a town hall meeting in Austin, Texas, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said that we need a political revolution that empowers ordinary Americans to revitalize the US.

Sanders said that wealthy campaign donors have used their wealth to capture control of the government and advance their private agendas.

As a result, the government is making bad political decisions that cater to the special interests of the rich at the expense of everyone else causing tens of millions of potential voters to become disengaged from politics.

Getting these disgruntled voters engaged in the political process is the only way to reverse the bad policy decisions that have cost us millions of good paying jobs and a disappearing middle class, burdened many young people seeking a college degree with oppressive debt, degraded our environment, and made health care too expensive.

“Politics is important to the rich, it should be just as important to the rest of us,” said Sanders to the overflow crowd at the IBEW Local 520 union hall.

Sanders has laid out a 12-point agenda for revitalizing America. Educating people about and organizing them around this agenda, said Sanders, is the key to mobilizing them for the fight to take back the government.

At the town hall meeting organized by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialist of America, Sanders elaborated on his  Agenda for America: 12 Points Forward.

Foremost on this agenda is Sanders’ proposal for creating millions of good paying jobs by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure–roads, bridges, schools, water plants, sewage systems, railroads, airports and other public investments that make commerce, work, recreation, and education possible.

Investing in such an undertaking will be expensive, acknowledged Sanders, but not doing so will be more expensive.

If we don’t make the investment, commerce and other activities that constitute our every day lives will suffer and we’ll lose an opportunity to create millions of good paying jobs that can restore the middle class dream for many who have given up hope.

Sanders suggested that some of the money needed to rebuild our infrastructure could come from cutting the military budget.

“A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive,” said Sanders. “We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.”

If we are to rebuild the middle class, said Sanders, American workers need a raise.

Since 1999, the average annual income of middle-class America has dropped by $5,000 in inflation adjusted dollars.

Forty million Americans are still mired in poverty despite the vast wealth that has been created in the last 40 years.

Several points in Sanders’ Agenda for America offer ways to give American workers a raise:

  • Make it easier for workers to join a union. Unions give workers the collective power to bargain for higher wages. In the past, stronger unions have meant higher pay for union and non-union workers alike.
  • Raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a poverty wage. The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised since 2009.
  • Eliminate the pay differential between men and women. Women currently earn 78 percent less than men for the same kind of work.
  • Raise Social Security benefits, expand Medicare to all Americans so that everyone has access to affordable quality health care, and expand federal nutrition programs.
  • Make college affordable for all. Too many students are leaving college with crushing debt. Making college affordable will create a larger pool of skilled workers, who will help the US maintain a competitive edge in the world economy.

Tackling the effects of climate change is also an important point on Sander’s agenda.

Climate change threatens to transform our environment in a way that will make life harder for all but the most wealthy.

Climate change can be halted by relying more on renewable energy such as solar and wind power.

Converting our economy to one that relies more on renewable energy will have the added benefit of creating millions of new jobs as new renewable energy technologies develop and mature.

Finally, if we are to stop the decline of the American middle class, said Sanders, we must stop bad trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the Congress will soon be considering.

Bad trade deals such as TPP and NAFTA are another example of bad decisions made to serve special interests.

Since NAFTA was ratified in the 1990s, millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs have been shipped abroad as corporations seek to lower labor costs.

Job losses resulting from TPP, a proposed trade deal between the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, could dwarf those caused by NAFTA.

Implementing the Agenda for America will revitalize America by ensuring that the wealth that we all create will be distributed fairly, but it will only happen, said Sanders, if we stand together and educate and organize our friends, family, co-workers, and the millions who have been harmed by the bad decisions made on behalf of special interests rather than for the public good.

If we succeed then we can hold politicians accountable, said Sanders. “If they don’t vote for jobs, then they’ll lose their jobs. If they don’t vote for health care, then they’ll lose their health care.”

ILWU delegates recommend ratification of tentative agreement

ILWU caucus delegates voted on April 3 to recommend that union members ratify a tentative agreement that the union’s negotiating team and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) negotiated in February.

The agreement covers 20,000 longshore workers at 29 ports along the US West Coast.

Union members will now receive copies of the agreement and vote on it by mail. Voting will end May 22.

Seventy-eight percent of the caucus delegates voted to recommend ratification of the agreement.

“We secured a tentative agreement to maintain good jobs for dockworkers, their families, and their communities,” said Robert McEllrath, ILWU international president. “Longshore men and women on the docks will now have the final and most important say in the process.”

Negotiations that led to the tentative agreement lasted nine months, the longest negotiating period in the history of the ILWU.

During that time, PMA, which represents maritime and stevedore corporations doing business on the West Coast, accused longshore workers of engaging in a slowdown to give the union more bargaining leverage.

PMA in January retaliated for the alleged slowdown by enforcing a partial lockout at some of the busiest ports on the West Coast.

During the negotiations, especially toward the end, the delivery of cargo bound for the nation’s retailers was delayed significantly.

The delay had a big impact on the nation’s economy. A research and policy organization of merchants claims that by the end of the negotiation, the delays were costing the national economy $2 billion a day.

Another source said that the delays cost US retailers $3 billions in lost sales.

The delays led President Obama to send Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to the West Coast to monitor negotiations. After Perez spoke to both sides in the dispute, the union and PMA reached a tentative agreement.

Details about the agreement have not been made public, but the union provided some information on a few of the major issues that stalled negotiations.

One of the big stumbling blocks was PMA’s desire to cut longshore workers’ health care benefits.

That issue was resolved last summer when the two sides agreed to maintain the current health care benefit, which covers a wide range of health care services for workers, their families, and retirees at almost no cost to workers.

Another hurdle was the question of who would perform inspection and repair work on container chassis, the trailers that haul the large cargo containers.

Until last year, PMA represented employers owned the chassis, and union members inspected and repaired them as needed. But employers decided to outsource this work and sold their chassis to third-party contractors.

The sale created bottlenecks that contributed to delays in getting cargo delivered and made an already dangerous job less safe.

In January, the union and PMA agreed that ILWU members would inspect and repair the chassis before they leave the docks even though the third-party contractors will continue to own the chassis.

The last hurdle involved the arbitration process used to settle grievances. The union was concerned that some arbitrators were favoring employers in their arbitration decisions. Many of these decisions affect the health and safety of workers.

Loading and unloading large cargo containers is dangerous work, and this work will like get more dangerous as employers introduce more automation on the docks.

To protect worker safety, the union wanted to ensure that worker grievances get a fair hearing and pushed to replace some arbitrators who the union thought weren’t being objective.

The two sides compromised on this point by agreeing to replace arbitrators with three-person arbitration panels.

The tentative agreement also raises base pay and provides additional pay increases for workers with specialized skills.

The business press has called the tentative agreement a big win for the union and its members, but critics of the tentative agreement, some of whom are members and either current or former local leaders, are urging members to reject it.

According to those critical of the agreement, it doesn’t do enough to protect workers from job losses caused by automation, it gives bigger pay raises to those already earning higher wages, it doesn’t go far enough in protecting ILWU jurisdiction on chassis work, and it weakens an ILWU tradition of solidarity by making it more difficult for ILWU  members to refuse to cross picket lines.

Union leaders have refused to speculate whether members will ratify the tentative agreement, but whatever the outcome, there’s no guarantee that the new agreement will bring labor peace to the docks during the five-year life of the contract.

PMA represented employers will continue to probe for union weakness as they struggle to find new ways to reduce union power on the docks.

NYC hardhats join the Fight for $15 movement

Wearing hardhats showing their union stickers, construction workers on April 4 joined the Fight for $15 movement by marching in New York City with fast food and other low-wage workers to demand that the minimum wage be increased to $15 an hour.

Hardhats, fry cooks, wait staff, and others rallied in front of the headquarters of a New York City developer who plans to build New York’s newest skyscraper with non-union labor, then marched to a nearby McDonald’s where they entered the restaurant chanting, “Workers united will never be defeated.”

“All people deserve a living wage,” said Dennis Lee, a member of Laborers International Union of North America Local 79 to the New York Daily News while taking part in the demonstration. “All people deserve dignity and respect.”

McDonald’s, which last year reported net earnings of $4.76 billion, recently announced that it is raising the wages of some of its employees by $1 an hour.

But Fast Food Forward, which organized the April 4 demonstration, said that the raise will be given only to workers at restaurants directly owned by McDonald’s and not to those who work at the thousands of McDonald’s operated under a franchise agreement with the fast food giant.

Fast Food Forward also said that even with the $1 an hour pay increase McDonald’s still isn’t paying a living wage.

In an opinion piece appearing the Guaridan, Kwanza Brooks, a single mother and ten-year McDonald’s employee, said that the pay increase will mean that her wage rate increases from $7.25 an hour to $8.25 an hour.

“Now I’ll be trying to raise my kids on $8.25 on hour, said Brooks. “That’s still impossible! Let me be clear: raising wages only a little – and only for a small fraction of your 1.7 million workers – isn’t change. It’s a PR stunt.”

The April 4 demonstration was held to call attention to a one-day general strike of fast food and other low-wage workers that will be held in 200 US cities on April 15. Strikers will be demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Organizers of the general strike estimate that 60,000 people will participate in a local actions in 200 cities here in the US and that support demonstrations will take place in 35 other countries.

Fast food workers will be joined in the strike by other low-wage workers including retail clerks, home care and child care providers, university adjunct faculty and graduate students, and others.

The plight of these low-wage workers and the anxiety of construction workers fearing the encroachment of non-union contractors, which could mean the loss of their good paying jobs, is indicative of the reality faced by US workers–low-wage work is becoming the norm.

According to SEIU, another labor union supporting the Fight for $15 and the April 15 general strike, two-thirds of the households in the US earn less today than they did in 2002.

Jim Tankersley writing in the Washington Post says that worker pay in the 21st century isn’t growing like it once did.

“Women and minorities have lost all the progress they made in closing the median income gap with men,” writes Tankersley. “College graduates are doing better than anyone else, but income growth has stalled–or gone backwards–for all but the youngest workers.”

For years, technology has been cited as the main cause of wage stagnation, but Paul Krugman writes that that view no longer dominates the discourse on wage stagnation. Other factors, especially policy decisions, are now being seen as important causes of wage stagnation.

Two policy decisions have had the biggest impact on wages–the decision to keep the federal minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and the decision to weaken labor unions.

A minimum wage increase would raise the floor on wages, helping more than just those making the minimum wage.

Stronger unions with more members would give workers more leverage to bargain for a greater share of the wealth that they create.

Strong unions have made construction work good paying work, but non-union construction work is often low-wage work.

James Krause, an iron worker and a supporter of the Fight for $15, told the Daily News that when  he was a non-union construction worker, he was only making $12 an hour.

Anthony Devarel, another union iron worker supporting the Fight for $15, told the Daily News the same thing and said that when he was a non-union construction worker, he couldn’t afford to pay his rent.

Today he’s ready and able to become a home owner.

The desire to build a bond between low-wage workers and construction workers is one reason that the organizers of the April 4 demonstration decided to start it at the headquarters of JDS Development.

JDS is planning to build an 80-story high rise in mid-Manhattan without union labor.

Union contractors in New York City do almost all of the work on big projects such as the one that JDS is undertaking.

JDS’ decision could be a forewarning of things to come. If big construction projects use less union labor, many union construction workers could end up working for $12 an hour again.

The decision to start the April 4 Fight for $15 demonstration at JDS headquarters and end it at McDonald’s is symbolic.

Both JDS and McDonald’s are players in corporate America’s race to the bottom for paying wages.

Both fast food workers and construction workers have a stake in ending this race to the bottom, and unity between the two groups is the only way to stop it and create more good paying jobs.