Last weekend, worker justice advocates were able to honor the life and legacy of the late César Chávez, who lead farm workers in the struggle for dignity and justice on the field, on the big screen. With anticipation, my colleague, Janel Bailey, another friend and I joined hundreds of others excited to screen the film in Chávez's name at my local cinema on opening day.
We even participated in the National Farm Worker Ministry's "selfie" contest, but we didn't take home the prize (to be fair, we're not #selfie experts, but were thrilled to give it a try). As films commonly do, Luna's César Chávez highlighted the broad movement and the organizer's life through the lens of a narrative (not always reflecting a solid historical truth, but many patrons—including the three of us—left feeling inspired by the work of the United Farm Workers). Rightly so, Chávez inspired millions to commit themselves to seeking justice for workers.
And the struggle for that justice continues today. So this week, we lift up the 20 million food workers who make up one-sixth of the workforce in the country. Workers in the American food system are still some of the lowest paid workers in our economy. In fact, two of the three largest low-wage employers in the U.S. are fast food companies, Yum! Brands (the company that runs Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) and McDonald's. More than a third of their workers make less than $10.10 an hour, hardly enough to cover the basics, much less raise a family. Just like the farm workers in the grape fields, today's food workers are rising up, ready for the long struggle for fair wages and better working conditions. And interfaith groups, people of faith, worker centers and worker advocates are ready to continue to stand with workers fighting for better pay and working conditions.
On Monday, food workers and allied organizations delivered a petition calling House Speaker John Boehner to allow a vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act (H.R. 1010), but we're not stopping there. We'll continue to get out on the streets and work to raise state and local minimum wages so that even a deadlocked Congress cannot impede justice. But we're up against some large lobbying groups, such as the National Restaurant Association, that are working hard to keep workers (especially tipped workers...) at the bottom of the pay scale, robbing them of both a fair and moral wage and also the dignity of their work.
The "Other NRA"
The "other NRA" is the lobby of choice for companies like McDonald’s, YUM!, and for the large full-service restaurant companies like Darden Restaurants, which runs places like Red Lobster, Capital Grille and Olive Garden (Learn more about the Restaurant Opportunity Centers United's Dignity at Darden campaign). Not surprisingly, they’re heavily involved in anti-worker campaigns: they are one of the leading forces in keeping the federal tipped minimum wage at $2.13 an hour (where it’s been stuck since 1991) and blocking minimum wage increases across the country.
César Chávez and the United Farm Workers reminded the nation that the struggles of farm workers and their families mattered. He inspired those to walk in solidarity with farm workers in their struggle for justice. And with a strong moral conviction, Chávez declared that all work has value and all workers must be treated with dignity and respect. Let us carry that conviction into all food-service jobs across sectors today!
Learn more about IWJ's work to raise the federal minimum wage, and learn how you can get involved with state and local minimum wage and worker justice campaigns in your community!