Workers who are fighting for “$15 and a union” are planning strikes and protests all across the country April 15. Workers at fast-food restaurants, big-box retailers and other minimum-wage jobs will take part, along with growing numbers of unions and participants in social protest actions. Demonstrations have taken place in many cities over the last two weeks aimed at boosting participation and support.
“We believe that we will win,” chanted 30 people picketing a McDonald’s in Houston April 2.
“I’ve been part of the protests for two years, and they’re growing stronger and stronger,” Carlton Warren, a 22-year-old Jack-in-the-Box worker, told the Militant. “The company vice president said we can’t wear shirts or buttons supporting the fight. But I wear them anyway.”
Workers are gaining confidence as their fight spreads. The April 15 national day of action promises to be the biggest yet.
McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, saying “a motivated workforce” is good for business, announced April 1 that the company will raise wages to at least $1 more than the local minimum wage and allow workers to accumulate vacation time up to five days per year after one year’s service. But the changes apply only to the 90,000 workers directly employed by the company. The rest of the 750,000 McDonald’s employees work at franchise restaurants and will get nothing. An April 1 Fortune magazine headline summed it up: “McDonald’s pay raise helps only a fraction of workforce, may not motivate much.”
Workers’ reaction to the announcement was to hold protests at restaurants in 24 cities the next day.
“This is a victory for some, but not a win for all,” Darius Cephas, 23, a McDonald’s worker making $9.25 an hour, told a Boston rally of 50. “We need $15 an hour! We’re going to make sure they hear us.”
“What about the rest of us, aren’t we all worth a raise?” McDonald’s worker Katherine Cruz told a rally outside a Fifth Avenue restaurant in New York. “But it shows we are winning. They’re scared of us.”
The announcement by McDonald’s came less than two months after Walmart raised starting wages to $9 with plans for another increase next year in response to several years of organizing and protests by members and supporters of Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). Retailers Target, Marshalls and TJ Maxx quickly followed.
In addition to a substantial wage increase and a union, the workers are bringing in other demands — a full 40-hour week, a regular schedule and safety on the job. McDonald’s workers are speaking out against the high incidence of on-the-job burns from deep fryers and griddles.
Support for fight broadensThe fight for $15 and a union has intersected with the wave of protests against police brutality, especially after the Staten Island cop who killed Eric Garner in a chokehold last summer was allowed to walk.
Fast-food and Walmart workers have been joined by airport baggage handlers and cleaners, home health care workers and others who earn little more than the $7.25 per hour federal minimum wage.
Construction workers organized by Laborers Local 79 in New York rallied April 4, extending solidarity to fast-food, home health care, and airport workers who joined the protest.
“Those fighting for $15 an hour need someone to stand next to them,” Local 79 organizer Dennis Lee told the protesters. The Local 79 Facebook post on the rally said, “Great Rally this past Saturday. The next one will be even better, April 15, 6am!”
In New York workers will rally at sites around the city. At 4 p.m. all supporters of $15 and a union will come together at Columbus Circle for a citywide march and rally. SEIU reports members are coming from throughout the metropolitan area.
In Chicago, Fight for 15 organized an April 4 free showing of the movie “Selma.” Hundreds attended and got information about the April 15 rally planned at the University of Illinois.
After the showing some 20 fast-food workers and supporters marched into a nearby McDonald’s chanting and waving placards in English and Spanish to the delight of workers at the counter.
“I am still working for $8 an hour and can’t survive on that,” Gloria Machuca, a mother of six who has worked at McDonald’s in Houston for 15 years, told the rally there. “All they care about is get the food out and hurry up,” she said to the Militant.
“An increase with a dollar an hour is OK, but we won’t stop until we get $15 and a union,” said Carlton Warren, who has been burned at work. “The grease gets to popping. We have no first aid kit and no gloves when we clean the hot grill,” he said.
Danielle London in Houston; Jan Goldsmith in Boston; Emma Johnson, Tom Lewis and Caroline West in New York; and Anne Parker in Chicago contributed to this article.
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