With each passing year since the first strike in 2013, the Fight for $15 has built organization and harnessed the momentum needed for a successful national grassroots campaign. The April 14, 2016 national day of action was no exception, becoming the largest Fight for $15 mobilization thus far.
Riding high on a wave of recent victories in New York and California among others, tens of thousands of workers walked off the job on Thursday to demand a living wage and union representation.
As the Fight for $15 has evolved over the years, what was originally a campaign focused on fast-food workers has expanded to include workers from a myriad of industries and occupations. From nursing home aides to at-home caregivers; from airport workers to truck drivers; from adjunct professors to healthcare professionals; from retail salespeople to telecommunications operators; from poultry processing workers to farmers who pick the nation’s crops; from sanitation workers to cafeteria cooks; from baristas to bartenders, millions of workers from coast-to-coast and around the world are organizing for a living wage and a union in their respective industries.
And as the unity working people has solidified, the Fight for $15 has emerged from aspirational campaign to one that now feels inevitable.
Right now, workers, organizers, and allies are pushing scores of local ordinances and state legislation across the country to enact a living wage. A national push on Congress to raise the wage is highly likely after this year’s elections. The movement has grown so powerful that some Republican-controlled legislatures are actively working to pass laws that outlaw municipalities from raising the wage without their approval.
For many Democrats, supporting the Fight for $15 has become a prerequisite to stay relevant with the party’s progressive wing. Gone are the tight-rope-like talking points from elected officials hoping to appease both workers and business with conditional support for a graduated raise. In fact, at the Democratic presidential debate just hours after the national day of action ended on Thursday, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spent nearly five minutes sparring over who could lay claim to be the more vigorous supporter of the Fight for $15.
Alongside tens of thousands of striking workers, allies, and other activists on April 14, leaders with faith and worker center affiliates of Interfaith Worker Justice hit the streets to demand a living wage and union representation. The diversity of action across the country underscores the urgency of passing a living wage and also the geographic complexities of defining a living wage given regional economic realities.
For instance, in upstate New York, the Tompkins County Worker Center spent the day lobbying the county legislature to pass an ordinance that would surpass the $12.50 per hour by 2021 minimum wage threshold for upstate New York, recently signed into law by Governor Cuomo. As residents of Thompson County know, a true living wage for their region would be closer to $18 per hour by 2021.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, three state senators joined Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, 100 fast-food workers, and more than 300 community allies for an all-day action that included a disruption at the Retail Association Lobby Day breakfast (of which McDonald's is a member) to protest the group for lobbying the Minnesota legislature to pass a pre-emption law that would prevent municipalities from passing ordinances that benefit workers, like raising the minimum wage. The group also caused a McDonald’s in Minneapolis to shut-down because so many of their workers joined the strike.
The Indianapolis Worker Justice Center also used the day to push their lawmakers to embrace a living wage as home care providers, janitors, and retail workers marched from the city/county building to the Statehouse, where state legislators continue to refuse to even consider legislation to raise the minimum wage.
Clergy from the Interfaith Center for Worker Justice of San Diego County led a prayer vigil at the main event at a McDonald's in downtown San Diego, kicking off a rally of more than 1,200 people who marched to various McDonald’s in the city to support strikers and call for a living wage and union representation for all workers. ICWJ San Diego also helped “walk back” workers to their job on Friday to ensure that no strikers faced illegal retaliation for participating in the strike.
Members of Detroit Interfaith Worker Justice participated in a massive action at that shut down a downtown McDonald’s and blocked traffic on a major thoroughfare and let every single passer-by know that Michiganders want a living wage and union representation, despite the state’s recent move to adopt anti-worker “right to work” legislation.
In Boston, Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health joined more than 100 striking workers and allies to march from the Massachusetts Statehouse to Boston’s City Hall, stopping at a number of McDonald’s restaurants to encourage workers to join the strike and to demand McDonald’s treat its workers with more dignity and respect.
Cincinnati Interfaith for Worker Justice joined SEIU Local 1099 to travel to Cleveland for a convergence of fast-food workers, home care providers, and their allies from Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia to demonstrate for a living wage, union representation, and to remind elected officials that their vote in November is dependent on their embrace of worker issues.
In Washington, DC IWJ’s Executive Director Reverend Doug Mork joined a Good Jobs Nation rally with cafeteria workers who serve food in the U.S. Senate buildings and who recently won an historic victory against a cafeteria contractor who was misclassifying the workers to avoid paying a recently-won living wage.
And in Chicago, IWJ staffers participated in two massive demonstrations, as SEIU homecare and nursing home workers shut down a major entrance to Lakeshore Drive and thousands marched from the Magnificent Mile to the biggest McDonald’s in the city, where they shut down an entire city block, occupied a Bank of America drive-thru, and dropped a huge banner off the side of an adjacent building.
These actions are just a small sampling of the tireless action taken by IWJ affiliates and so many others on April 14. The sheer size and the inspiring diversity of participants in the Fight for $15 speak to the power of this movement and reassure our nation of the power that regular people have when we come together to challenge immoral and illogical policies that hurt millions of working people everyday.
You can find out more about the Fight For $15 here.
You can support the worker centers and faith organizations that comprise the Interfaith Worker Justice network by contributing here.
Onward to victory!