The movement that led to a reawakening for labor rights let its biggest threat know that they aren’t going anywhere.
Members of the Fight for $15 movement marked its fourth anniversary this week with rallies and walk-outs across the country to protest unfair labor practices and demand better wages and benefits.
In New York City, the birthplace of the movement, airport workers, fast food workers, Uber drivers and community activists marched from Zuccotti Park through the streets of lower Manhattan as part of Fight for $15’s “National Day of Action.” All participants shared common goals: the demand for good jobs and the right to organize, curbing deportations, gaining access to better health care and ending police violence against innocent nonwhites.
With the backdrop of Donald Trump taking over 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in less than two months, organizers know what’s at stake with the president-elect’s agenda.
“We are here today because we face retaliation in our stores for the gains we’ve made in our pay and for our continued effort to fight for better jobs,” stated Jorel Ware, an employee at a McDonald’s in upper Manhattan. “I’m ready to face arrest and put my own safety and freedom on the line because we’re still fighting for a union here in New York City and a $15 minimum wage for fast food and all low-wage workers across the country.”
Later on in the day, the marchers went from lower Manhattan to Newark Airport for another rally and called for contractors at Newark Airport to give their workers hourly wage raises. Workers also called on contractor Primeflight to recognize their right to organize.
Around the country, strikes were held by baggage handlers and cabin cleaners at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Uber drivers in two dozen cities, hospital workers in Pittsburgh and fast food workers across the country.
“Everyone says the gig economy is the future of work, but if we want to make that future a bright one, we need to join together like fast-food workers have in the Fight for $15 and demand an economy that works for all,” said Justin Berisie, a Denver-based Uber driver, in a statement. “Across the country, drivers are uniting and speaking out to fight for wages and working conditions that will allow us to support our families and help get America’s economy moving.”
In a show of solidarity, elected officials have aligned themselves with the movement. In Chicago, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky walked with striking workers while Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia got arrested for supporting strikers. Here in New York, New York City Council Members Brad Lander, Mark Levine and Antonio Reynoso were arrested alongside workers outside a lower Manhattan McDonald’s.
“Fast-food workers have led the Fight for $15 with their courage, bold vision, solidarity across race and gender and vision for economic fairness. They have transformed what is possible for low-wage workers and inspired so many others to take action. That’s why I’m getting arrested today, as part of their National Day of Action,” said Lander in a statement. “In the days ahead, I believe the courage the fast food workers have shown will inspire the courage we need, not only to resist the harms of the Trump Administration, but to build the more equal, more inclusive country we so urgently need.”
But the rallies weren’t the only new development in the Fight for $15 camp. A new report released this week by the National Employment Law Project concluded that American workers have won close to $62 billion in raises since the movement began four years ago.
“The Fight for $15’s impact towers over past congressional action because it has been propelled by what workers need—not what moderate compromise might allow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a statement. “As a result, workers have been fighting for and winning much bigger raises for much more of the workforce than ever before.”
According to the report, since Fight for $15 launched in 2012, the billions in raises won came from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases across the country and by McDonald’s and Walmart workers getting their companies to raise their minimum pay scales. The report also states that 19 million workers will benefit from these raises, with 2.1 million of those workers winning raises this month via ballot initiatives approved in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington State. All of these places will experience an increase in minimum wages by the year 2021.
“The Fight for $15 movement has recast the national conversation on wages, setting $15 as the new benchmark for a strong minimum wage around the country,” stated Owens. “By speaking out and sticking together, the courageous workers at the heart of the Fight for $15 movement have delivered meaningful, life-changing wage increases for 19 million low-wage workers and their families around the country.”
Minnesota-based Congressman Keith Ellison also spoke out in favor of the movement. Ellison, who is running for chair of the Democratic National Committee and predicted Trump’s rise back in 2015, talked of families struggling financially who are looking for a way to pay basic expenses.
“When I talk to people on the picket lines in Minnesota and around the country, they tell me they’re striking for a better life for their kids and their families,” said Ellison. “They tell me they’re working harder than ever, and still struggling to make ends meet. In the wealthiest country in the world, nobody working full time should be living in poverty. But the power of protest and working people’s voices can make all the difference. Politics might be the art of the possible, but organizing is the art of making more possible.”