For low-wage workers, the time has come

George Gresham | 11/5/2015, 4:32 p.m.
Nov. 10, thousands of 1199ers will take to the streets, as will thousands across the U.S., to demand a $15 ...
George Gresham Contributed

Nov. 10, thousands of 1199ers will take to the streets, as will thousands across the U.S., to demand a $15 an hour minimum wage. Marchers will also demand union representation to help protect and enforce wages and benefits.

The time has come. What not too long ago seemed like a pipe dream today is within sight of millions of low-wage workers. In our state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has approved raises to $15 an hour for fast-food workers. Public workers in Syracuse, N.Y., now have a $15 minimum. And on the West Coast, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco have approved $15 minimums.

In Massachusetts, some 35,000 1199SEIU home care workers recently signed a contract that will raise their wages to $15 an hour by 2018.

But the hourly wage for 64 million workers in our nation still falls below the $15 rate, which is true of 2.2 million in New York and why, on Nov. 10, people of conscience will stand up with home care, child care, fast-food, retail and airport workers, as well as adjunct professors, students and other low-wage workers.

Our message? It is long past time to reverse the conditions of the tens of thousands of 1199SEIU home care workers who devote their lives to caring for frail, elderly and disabled persons. That means it is long past time to put an end to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “full-time hours for part-time pay.”

It is past time for these workers, overwhelmingly women of color, to be able to provide for their loved ones. It is past time to begin to reverse the growing inequality that fills the coffers of the few while worsening the plight of the many.

This fight also will also help to determine the future of the health care industry. The graying of the baby-boomer generation continues to rapidly increase the number of Americans who need care, while the restructuring of the health care industry has shifted the focus from hospitals and acute care toward ambulatory care. As a result, home care is the fastest growing occupation in the industry. Therefore, it is in the interest of workers and patients that all health care jobs provide a living wage and decent benefits. This compensation means adequate funding. In New York, virtually all home care dollars comes from Medicaid, funded jointly by the federal government and the state, which means Washington and Albany largely determine our fate.

In that regard, we view Nov. 10 as an early salvo in the 2016 election campaign. On that date, we will send a loud and clear message to anyone who is even thinking of seeking elected office that they absolutely must support a living wage. That message will be amplified because our voices will be joined by our allies who recognize that we are all knitted together in Dr. Martin Luther King’s “single garment of destiny.”

This link was made clear in a recent forum at the City University of New York’s Murphy Center that explored the relationship between the Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter movements. Speakers noted that fights for social and economic justice always have been intertwined. As such, Fight for $15 lead organizers in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., used their organizing expertise to lead protests after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Nov. 10, we will be joined not only by Black Lives Matter activists but also by other union sisters and brothers who understand the importance of raising the wage floor for all workers and strengthening the family of labor. We will be joined by the women’s movement, which recognize that the overwhelming majority of low-wage workers are women. Environmentalists will point out that the greatest burdens of the destruction of our climate are borne by people of color and the poor. Immigrant rights activists understand the need for the working poor to come out of the shadows, and members of the faith community will be there because they understand clearly the moral imperative of a living wage.

Join us Nov. 10 in Foley Square at 5 p.m. Together we will prevail because, as King taught us, “When you stand up for justice, you never fail.”