Unions, community groups step up efforts to raise pay for low-wage workers

Unions and community groups have stepped up their efforts to raise the wages of the US’s lowest paid workers. In New York City, United NY, a community/labor coalition, will hold a Day of Action for Low-Wage Workers on Tuesday, July 24.

On the same day, Stand Up Chicago, another community/labor coalition will rally for a minimum wage increase. In San Francisco, an immigrants rights group and the City Attorney teamed up to win a $500,000 wage settlement from a local carwash company.

The Day of Action in New York will feature a media conference, a rally, and a march designed to call attention to the plight of low-wage workers, who are becoming the fastest growing sector of the city’s workforce.

According to James Parrott of the Fiscal Policy Institute, the size of New York workforce making $10 an hour or less has increased by 42 percent since 1990.

That trend has become more pronounced since the recession began. Since 2008, New York has added 100,000 jobs that pay $10 an hour or less. Meanwhile, the city has lost 42,000 middle-income jobs.

“People are really hurting in this city,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of RWDSU, one of the unions helping to organize the Day of Action to the New York Daily News. “People are going to work at honest jobs and they are still condemned to a life of poverty.”

The Day of Action will include a call for raising the minimum wage. “We want to raise awareness that increasing the minimum wage makes a real difference in the lives of working people,” said SEIU Local 32BJ to the Daily News. “This is what labor unions should be about.”

United NY, RWDSU, and SEIU have also been helping carwash, grocery store, health care, and other low-wage workers to organize unions and to fight back against employer abuse like wage theft.

In Chicago, Stand Up Chicago will also rally on July 24 for an increase in the minimum wage. Organizers of the rally want people running for elected office to make raising the minimum wage their priority.

The current minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour, well below the $3,073 an hour that the average CEO receives.

Had the minimum wage kept up with inflation over the last 40 years, it would now be $10.55 an hour, still a modest amount but a big improvement over the present minimum wage.

Stand Up Chicago like all other supporters of an increased minimum wage argue that increasing the minimum wage would lead toward an improved economy.

“Putting more money into the pockets of ordinary Americans is a no-brainer,” said a posting on the group’s website. “If we reduced income inequality, we’d boost our economy. Small businesses would grow and hire, and we’d put the 99 percent back to work.”

In San Francisco, low-wage carwash workers got some good news. Tower Car Wash agreed to settle a wage theft law suit.

As part of the settlement, Tower will pay $500,000 to workers to reimburse them for wages owed but not paid. The lawsuit charged the company with forcing workers to report to work but then not allowing them to clock in, sometimes for hours. According to the suit, the unpaid work time averaged four to six hours a week.

The suit was brought by City Attorney Tony Herrera and La Raza Centro Legal, an immigrants rights center.

The United Steelworkers has been actively organizing carwash workers in Los Angeles, where three carwash companies have recognized their workers union and signed a union contract.

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