Service workers of all kinds want higher wages, talk fiscal cliff
STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 1/3/2013, 2:17 p.m.
Last Thursday in Manhattan's Times Square and Union Square, shoppers were treated to more than holiday-themed sales and people traffic. Thousands of fast-food, car wash and airport workers gathered at the two shopping hubs to rally in favor of better jobs, higher wages and to call for investment in working families rather than continued tax cuts for the wealthy. The fight centered on both the state and federal governments.
Made up of members from 32BJ SEIU, RWDSU, NYC Central Labor Council, Make the Road New York and La Fuente, the march came on the heels of last week's fast-food strike, which has brought to light one of the last frontiers of union organizing: food service. Camille Rivera, executive director of UnitedNY, said the seeds of this rally were planted a long time ago.
"All around the city, workers are uniting for their rights," said Rivera. "This is a movement that has arisen because workers are tired of working long hours for little pay, no benefits and no respect. This is also a movement that will continue as long as corporations like McDonald's are allowed to pay their CEO millions while workers must rely on minimum wage, as long as car wash owners can steal workers' wages and as long as corporations like Walmart can refuse workers the ability to collectively fight for their rights.
"Workers from various industries are standing up and making their voices heard," Rivera said.
Statistics have consistently shown that a majority of low-wage work has accounted for a huge chunk of the new jobs added since the recession. With the United States becoming more of a service society, places like Walmart, McDonald's, Macy's and John F. Kennedy International Airport are seeing a resurgence in the fight for workers' rights to a living wage.
"Corporations like McDonald's, Wendy's and Yum Brands make billions of dollars in our communities each year, yet they think it's OK to pay poverty wages to the workers who live in these same communities," said Jonathan Westin, the organizing director for New York Communities for Change. "The men and women who work at these fast-food restaurants have families to support and bills to pay, and $7.25 an hour is simply not enough to make that happen. These corporations must begin to take their workers, their needs and their rights seriously. Workers are fed up with the status quo, and they're not going to take it anymore."
"You can't raise a family on minimum wage," added Pamela Flood, a mother of three who works at a Burger King in Brooklyn. "With food and diapers, my paycheck is gone after two days. I'm taking a stand for my family and other families across the city in this situation who aren't making enough to get by. We need a change."
The workers at the rally also know that what happens in Washington, D.C., over the next several weeks will have a profound effect on their livelihoods. Michael Kink, executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, spoke of the importance of reaching what he believes to be a fair fiscal cliff deal.
"The so-called 'fiscal cliff' is a test for our elected officials in Congress: Will they put the middle class over millionaires?" said Kink. "To expand prosperity, we need to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and invest in jobs and our economic future--and we need New York representatives like Michael Grimm and Pete King on our side to make it happen."