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.