Fight for $15 Goes to College, With Students, #BlackLivesMatter Activists, Workers Joining Forces In Biggest Campus Protests Since Anti-Apartheid Movement
As Fast-Food Workers Strike in 236 Cities, Adjunct Professors, Home Care, Child Care, Airport, Industrial Laundry and Walmart Workers Come Together in National and Global Protests
SAN FRANCISCO – Fast-food cooks and cashiers walked off their jobs on April 15th at more than 20 different actions in every major Bay Area city, escalating a historic wave of protests for higher pay and the freedom to join unions that stretched across industries and around the globe and inspired college students and #BlackLivesMatter activists to join in.
The protests—the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay— came just days after Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president promising to confront America’s gaping inequality. The tax day strikes, marches and rallies included walkouts by fast-food workers in 236 U.S. cities, spanned industries from home care to academia, stretched from Tokyo to Sao Paolo and reached campuses like UC-Berkeley demonstrating the two-and-a-half-year-old Fight For $15 is stronger than ever.
Fast-food workers kicked off the protests at 6 a.m. in the Mission District, which is a center of both the City’s Latino Community and the crisis of economic inequality. There were joined by workers by walking off their jobs at more than 20 different events covering every major Bay Area city, including Oakland, Berkeley, and San Jose, all of which culminated with a massive rally with students at UC-Berkeley and a mass march on a nearby McDonald’s.
Around the country, workers went on strike for the first time in Albany, NY; Asheville, NC; Greenville, MS; Montgomery, Ala.; and San Jose, Calif. The strikes, which started a day earlier in Boston out of deference to the April 15 anniversary of the marathon bombing, came two weeks after McDonald’s announced it was increasing salaries for a fraction of its workforce by $1. But rather than mollifying employees, the paltry pay move inspired even more workers to join the walkout. All across the country, McDonald’s workers joined strike lines, chanting, “Hey McDonald’s Let’s Be Blunt, Your Raise is Just a PR Stunt.”
“Our movement keeps growing, because this is about more than just fast food workers,” said Zharia Harper, a McDonald’s worker of two years and a student at Laney College, “My mother, although she studied pharmaceutical technology, works in retail because low wage jobs are the fastest growing jobs in our economy. Retail, child care, home care, adjuncts, it doesn’t matter what the job, people need to be paid enough to live. That is why we stand in support of each other in demanding $15 and union rights.”
In New York City, striking workers and supporters protested at every McDonald’s in Manhattan, while in Berkeley, Calif. Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor, spoke to striking workers at a McDonald’s. Faith leaders and community supporters rolled out a red carpet as workers walked off their jobs at a McDonald’s in St. Louis.
More Than Fast Food
Inspired by cooks and cashiers from restaurants like McDonald’s and Burger King, adjunct professors, joined in the protests for the first time, along with home care, child care,airport, industrial laundry and Walmart workers.
Weeks after they joined the Fight for $15, child care workers in 10 states participated in the protests. Calling for a system that ensures quality, affordable and accessible child care for every American family, workers from California to Connecticut joined the call for $15 and a union.
Aronda Morris, a 30-year child care provider in North Oakland said: “I’ve kept my rates low to help working parents, but I can’t pay my own bills when I make $4 after expenses.”
Security guards across the country also joined the protests, explaining that they are often overlooked and undercompensated, especially in high-cost regions like the Bay Area. Daniel Santos, a security guard from Hayward, is one of those joining the protests. He earns only $12 an hour, and has never even considered moving to expensive San Jose, where he works. Daniel has been a security officer for more than 10 years. After 5 1/2 years with his current employer, he hasn’t gotten a raise. He does all his grocery shopping at discount grocery outlets, avoiding more expensive stores such as Safeway. Daniel dreams of taking a vacation to Los Angeles or Mexico, but without paid time off, he has to stay home in Hayward.
Fight for 15 Goes to College
The movement spread Wednesday to college campuses all over the country, where adjunct professors, who are calling for $15,000 per course, participated in their first Fight for $15 protests since joining the movement earlier this year. Even though many have PhD’s, adjuncts earn so little that 1 in 5 live below the poverty line and 1 in 4 are forced to rely on public assistance to scrape by.
“With the rise of temporary working conditions, the economic reality of today’s America leaves workers underpaid and underemployed, whether they are fast food workers or adjunct professors like myself,” said Robert Hugel, a Senior Adjunct Professor at California College of the Arts and a member of SEIU Local 1021. “Hard-working Americans and their dream of getting ahead to make a better life for their families and children depends on both economic justice and social justice, and that’s why we ALL stand together today and fight for $15.”
Students from 200 universities joined their professors, waging the most widespread series of campus protests since the anti-apartheid movement. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, students, fast-food workers, and community supporters delivered a petition signed by thousands to the university’s chancellor, calling for a $15 minimum wage for all university workers. At the University of Southern California, students and faculty converged on the Tommy the Trojan statue and placed a Fight for $15 shirt on him. And at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students, fast-food workers, adjuncts and community supporters rallied and then briefly occupied a university food court.
At many of the campus protests, and in the streets throughout the day, calls for economic justice mixed with demands for racial justice as ties between the Fight for $15 and the #BlackLivesMatter continued to deepen. A report released Monday by the National Employment Law Project showed that more than half of black workers in the U.S. are paid less than $15 an hour.
In Charleston, near where Walter Scott was gunned down earlier this month, fast-food workers started their strike with a minute of silence and their backs turned to a McDonald’s restaurant. They chanted, “Backs Turned, Don’t Shoot,” and “Black Lives Matter.” And in Ferguson, MO #BlackLivesMatter activists and workers held a speak out outside the McDonald’s near where Mike Brown was shot and killed. In New York City, where Eric Garner was choked to death, students held a die-in in Columbus Circle to highlight the intersection of the two movements. And in Milwaukee, fast-food workers linked arms with members of the Coalition for Justice, a group organizing around #BlackLivesMatter, marching to where Dontre Hamilton was shot last year and listening to his brother, Nate Hamilton, talk about why the Fight for $15 and #BlackLivesMatter are one movement.
Meanwhile, the federal government recently launched a case against McDonald’s, accusing the fast-food giant of rampant labor-law violations, and arguing that the corporate parent, and not just franchisees, are responsible for the illegal actions. This is all on top of suits alleging wage theft and racial discrimination in the US; more than two-dozen complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging McDonald’s workers are being burned on the job, with many told to use condiments like mustard to ease the pain; and the more than $1 billion in public assistance taxpayers spend to subsidize low wages here.
It isn’t just McDonald’s that is digging into taxpayers’ pockets. The tax day protests, held Wednesday both because the date, 4/15, is the workers’ demand and because they wanted to highlight the fact that they are paid so little that too many are forced to rely on public assistance to get by, came just days after researchers at the University of California-Berkeley released a report showing that persistent low wages are costing taxpayers nearly $153 billion every year in public support to working families.
Changing How America Thinks About Wages
What seemed two years ago like a far-fetched goal—$15 an hour—is now not so crazy. In February, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio called for an increase in New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by 2019. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union asked the Board of Education to pay $15 an hour to all workers in schools and in December, Chicago lawmakers voted to raise the minimum wage to $13. In Washington, workers won $15 in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers,” and in SeaTac, where local low-wage airport workers played a leading role in winning a historic wage increase.
And in November, San Francisco became the third city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage. Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private sector unions in the entire country.
Slate said the Fight for $15, “managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages;” MSNBC said it, “entirely changed the politics of the country;” and Fortune said it, “transformed labor organizing from a process often centered on nickel-and-dime negotiations with a single employer into a social justice movement that transcends industry and geographic boundaries.
The urgent need for solutions to America’s low-wage crisis is already emerging as a key issue in the run-up to the 2016 election. In The New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote, “[a]s the 2016 presidential campaign begins to stir, the central question will be how both parties respond to the great wage slowdown.” And Democrats and leading economic experts are increasingly looking to restore Americans’ rights to form unions as a way to bring balance back to the economy and create jobs that enable more communities to thrive.