Serving Up Justice: Professors and fast food workers find common cause in minimum wage fight

The Poster Syndicate

Poster created by/courtesy of The Poster Syndicate. The San Francisco Poster Syndicate is an organization of faculty, students and former students at the San Francisco Art Institute. “We make political prints for many specific issues in the Bay Area. We grew out of the crisis around higher education — student debt and the abuse of adjunct faculty. We are here to bring art and design to many different people’s movements in hopes that their message can be heard and seen more loudly.”

The alliance between adjunct college professors and fast food workers appears at first glance to be an unlikely partnership. Yet their interests coincide more than you’d think.

According to Art Hazelwood, an art/printmaking professor at the San Francisco Art Institute, one reason is the precarious nature of the jobs: the insecurity of never knowing how long you will hold it, the lack of health care benefits or retirement plans.

“Everything is from semester to semester,” he said. “You don’t know if you’ll get one class or three or what your schedule will be.”

The anxiety level gets jacked up when you see your job being advertised even as you are doing it.

“It’s like you’re dependent on the vagaries of the administration’s goodwill,” Hazelwood said. “Or what if the administration changes and decides not to offer your class next semester?”

He noted that SFAI used to have an Urban Studies major, but the administration closed it down.

“Where do those teachers go? What do they do?” he asked.

The corporate food chain

Another commonality Hazelwood pointed to is that like fast food restaurants, schools are becoming more and more corporate, with new rules and HR people.

“Business think is creeping into academia,” he said.

Professors and fast foodies unite

The two have another common interest, this one more promising. They are both organizing with the help of SEIU. Through the work of the union, several members of the East Bay Organizing Committee — a group of fast food workers involved in the Fight for Fifteen — came to one of Hazelwood’s classes and met with a dozen of his students a year ago, last March. They discussed the issues and how to present them, which images worked and felt empowering.

Hazelwood had already introduced his students to the world of political printmaking. Under the rubric of The Poster Syndicate, they created posters for adjunct faculty organizing campaigns with students at other campuses like Mills College and the California College of the Arts, as well as for the Coalition on Homelessness and the community/labor support group Jobs with Justice. So this was not much of a stretch.

The students met several times with fast food workers and tossed around ideas until they settled on the image that would become the one for the big fast food strike last April 15: a strong African American woman standing on a heap of trash with the slogans “We are not disposable” and “Take to the Streets April 15.” They printed it on t-shirts and posters, even taking their screens to the demo on the UC Berkeley campus that day, printing on the spot to the delight of strikers and their supporters.

The Poster Syndicate came up with several designs for the Fight for Fifteen action last fall in Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza. On site they had five designs people lined up for, choosing which one they wanted and having it made for them to order right there like they were at Burger King.

Coming right up

This year The Poster Syndicate came up with new designs for the upcoming Fight for Fifteen rally on April 14, 2016.

Carlos Rodriguez, one of Hazelwood’s students who met with the fast food workers and worked on some of the poster designs, noted that as a student he’s been working part-time for minimum wage at SFAI.

“After graduation you have to do an internship to get anywhere, so that may continue for a while,” he said.

Ryan Harrison, another of Hazelwood’s students, works for minimum wage cleaning up the print studio. He and his co-workers at the school are pushing for $15 an hour too. He created some posters around Mayor Lee kicking out homeless people around the Embarcadero for Super Bowl City.

“I was taken by the juxtaposition of all the money spent on Super Bowl ads and how much housing that could build,” he said. “Work that matters is so much more engaging.”

The Poster Syndicate’s work will be engaging thousands more at the April 14 rally at Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza. And again they will be at the action printing on site for participants.

Fight for 15 Action & Rally
Th 4/14 -12-3p – Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland – 3-5:30p march and rally

SEIU International: “$15 win in California shows power of sticking together”

SEIU California: “#FIGHTFOR15 Movement Poised To Deliver A Historic Raise For Millions Of California Workers”

The Fight for $15 (#Fightfor15) national movement of millions of workers is positioned to achieve a historic victory for underpaid Californians, who will see their wages rise to $15 per hour by 2022 under an agreement announced by Governor Brown and Legislative leaders [on Monday]. The proposed legislation must still pass in the legislature.

“Fast food workers, early childhood educators, home care providers and other hard-working, underpaid Californians have made history and delivered hope to millions of families struggling to get by on wages too low to live on and without basic benefits such as sick days,” said Laphonza Butler, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California. …

Governor Brown and legislators will move forward legislation to raise the California minimum wage to $15 by 2022, and end an unfair exclusion of home care workers from a state guarantee of three paid sick days for all workers. …

The agreement in California is the latest and biggest victory for the Fight for $15 and underpaid workers who just three years ago launched their movement for higher pay and union rights in New York City. In California, local Fight for $15 movements have won key victories in Los Angeles, and San Francisco. When this agreement is signed into law by Governor Brown, California will be the first state in the nation to adopt this crucial standard for all workers.


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About Randy Lyman

SEIU Local 1021 Communications Dept.

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