“We won’t back down”; the fight for $15 gets bolder

A wave of militant action rolled across the US on November 29 disrupting business as usual as low-wage workers told the nation that they weren’t backing down from their fight to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Strikes, acts of civil disobedience, and other protests involving thousands of people took place in 340 cities.

Despite the US government’s turn to the extreme right in the November election, supporters of the November 29 day of action said that they would escalate their fight to raise wages and stop looming attacks on the working class.

“We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender,” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis. “And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.”

In Chicago, 500 workers at O’Hare Airport walked off the job in an unfair labor strike.

The strikers carried signs reading, “Fight for $15 and a union.”

The strikers included janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, and other low-wage service providers.

The workers said that they were striking to protest intimidation by their employers who are trying to stop the workers from organizing a union.

After the walkout, workers gathered at an O’Hare terminal to rally for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to join a union.

Low-wage workers at 20 other US airports joined in protests to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage.

In New York, demonstrators sat down in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway shutting down traffic during the morning rush hour.

“We are here today because we face retaliation in our stores for the gains we’ve made in our pay and our continued effort to fight for better jobs,” said Jorel Ware, a McDonald’s worker to the New York Daily News. “I’m ready to face arrest and put my own safety and freedom on the line.”

“We are here to send a message loud and clear to our employers that we won’t back down,” said Jahnay Tucker, a Chipotle worker. “We are going to keep fighting for the good jobs we deserve.”

According to the Daily News, more than two dozen protesters were arrested for their part in the sit-in.

The protesters were joined by Uber and Lyft drivers, who have been fighting for union recognition.

In Memphis, about 100 people sat in at a McDonald’s near downtown and then began to march toward Interstate 240.

Thinking that the protesters were going to block traffic on the freeway, Memphis police blocked their march.

A stand off ensued that lasted several hours. “It’s a free street,” shouted the protesters to the police blocking their way.

In Minneapolis, 250 people gathered in the street in front of a McDonald’s at Nicollet Avenue and 24th Street where they blocked traffic. Twenty-one people were arrested.

Protesters then moved to a Kohl’s store in the Eden Prairie shopping center.

Janitors who work for Kohl’s have been organizing to fight for a Responsible Contractors Policy that would require janitorial service contractors providing services at Kohl’s to pay a decent wage, provide benefits, and allow workers to join a union of their choice.

“We’ve had a lot of support; it’s crazy,” said Stephanie Gasca of Centro Trabajadores Unido en Lucha (Workers Center United in Struggle), which has helped the janitors organize, to the Star Tribune. “We’ve been involved in this movement for almost two years. It’s time to pass $15 an hour now.”

In Las Vegas, Fight for $15 supporters marched through the Las Vegas Strip in the evening to a McDonald’s where six people sat down to block traffic and were arrested.

“We’re here to say, no matter who is in the White House, we’re going to keep fighting for $15,” said Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, which helped organize the action.

These are just a few of the actions that took place all over the US. Hundreds of people were arrested and thousands participated in street actions and strikes.

Those who took part in what organizers called “A Day of Disruption,” pointed to the gains that the Fight for $15 has accomplished in four years.

Since the first fast food workers walked off the job in 2012 to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage, 22 million minimum wage workers have gotten or will get a pay increase because the states or cities where they live enacted minimum wage increases.

In New York and California alone, 10 million workers will be lifted out of poverty because the two states increased their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In November, voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington voted to increase their states minimum wage. In Washington, the minimum wage will increase to $13.50 by 2020, and in the other states, it will increase to $12 an hour by 2020.

Organizers of the November 29 actions said that their fight will continue until all who work are paid a living wage that keeps them out of poverty.

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Smithsonian food service workers join UNITE HERE

More than 200 food service workers at two Smithsonian museums in Washington DC will soon be negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement with their employer, the Compass Group.

The workers, who work at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of American History, joined UNITE HERE Local 25.

About one week before Christmas, the union announced that Compass Group, a global company that manages restaurants at the two museums, agreed to recognize and bargain with its workers’ union.

Food service and other low-wage workers working for private contractors at the 19 Smithsonian museums, galleries, and national zoo in the Washington DC area have engaged in a series of one-day strikes that began last spring. The workers are demanding a living wage.

“We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do,” said Luis (no last name given), who works at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s McDonald’s during the most recent strike on December 5. “It’s tough to keep a roof over our heads making $8.25 an hour.”

The work stoppages have been organized by Good Jobs Nation, a workers center supported by SEIU that helps low-wage workers working for federal contractors in the Washington DC area to organize and fight employer abuses.

A report by Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith of Demos estimates that two million employees working for private businesses that contract with the federal government to provide services to the public throughout the US make $12 or less an hour.

A living wage calculator developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that a living wage in the Washington DC area is $13.68 an hour.

John W. Anderson, speaking to Washington Post reporter Michael Fletcher, said that he hopes a new collective bargaining agreement with Compass Group will lead to a raise, so that he and his son can move into an apartment of their own. He currently rents a room.

Anderson, a line cook at the American History Museum now makes $10.50 an hour. He told the Post what he hopes to gain by joining UNITE HERE.

“Our company has already taken some strides to help us,” he said. “Now I am excited that (joining the union) is another step closer to having somebody speaking for us so we can have some livable wages.”

Negotiations on the new contract are to begin in January.

Good Jobs Nation leads low-wage workers protest against federal contractors

Led by workers carrying a banner reading, “Smithsonian Workers on Strike,” 50 workers on July 11 marched through the streets of Washington DC to demand a living wage and to protest wage theft.

The workers, members of Good Jobs Nation, work for private contractors at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and American History Museum.

Their action last Thursday was the latest in a series of one-day strikes by low-wage workers at federal buildings in Washington DC.

The workers work for private companies that contract with the government to provide a wide array of services at federal facilities including food service, maintenance, and gift shop work.

“I have worked at the McDonald’s in the Air and Space Museum for nine years,” said Ana Hernandez, a Good Jobs Nation member. “And while my employer and the government make lots of money off of my work, I still only make $8.25 an hour.

“As a single mom, I struggle to afford the basics my family needs. Imagine trying to raise your family on $11,000 a year. You have to make hard choices, like putting food on the table or paying the bills. Having electricity or buying clothes for your children. We deserve a living wage for the hard work we do – and that’s why we went on strike last week.”

Earlier in the week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the US Department of Labor alleging wage theft by eight food vendors at the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center.

The complaint alleges that the contractors pay wages below the federal minimum wage and don’t follow federal overtime laws.

Good Jobs Nation is also asking President Obama to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage.

As it turns out, the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage workers. According to a report by Demos, 2 million private sector workers working for federal contractors make $12 an hour or less, more than the number of low-wage workers who work for McDonald’s or Walmart.

“These workers represent a large spectrum of occupations, from workers sewing military uniforms to hospital aides funded by Medicare, security guards with contracts to protect public buildings, and food cart vendors at the National Zoo,” write Amy Traub and Robert Hiltonsmith in their introduction to the report.

Earlier this month, food service workers at the Reagan federal building in Washington DC staged a one-day strike.

Another Good Jobs Nation march and rally is planned for July 18.

After Smithsonian workers walked off the job on July 11, the Smithsonian management tried to assure the public that there were no real grievances among workers at the museums and that a strike did not take place.

Good Jobs Nation responded with a public statement by Hernandez. “The most shocking exhibit at the Smithsonian is the poverty wages workers are earning while serving food at the largest museum in the world,” she said. “And they won’t succeed in silencing our voices.”