National

Stung by the elections, low-wage workers plan massive protest over pay

In this April 14, 2016, file photo, union organizers, students and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march through the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Modest income growth for most Americans, strikes by fast-food workers and the rapid growth of low-paying jobs at the same time that middle-income work shrinks combined to make the minimum wage a top economic issue for the 2016 political campaigns.
In this April 14, 2016, file photo, union organizers, students and supporters for a $15 an hour wage march through the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. Modest income growth for most Americans, strikes by fast-food workers and the rapid growth of low-paying jobs at the same time that middle-income work shrinks combined to make the minimum wage a top economic issue for the 2016 political campaigns. AP

Low-wage earners across America are promising their most disruptive protests to date on Nov. 29, when they will hold a series of work actions and strikes involving nearly 20 large airports and fast-food restaurants in more than 340 cities.

Fight for $15,” the 4-year-old coalition of workers seeking a $15 minimum wage and the right to union representation, is organizing the actions in response to the nation’s changing political climate following the contentious elections.

“We will not stand by and watch our country be torn apart by race, ethnicity and gender,” said Terrance Wise, a McDonald’s restaurant worker in Kansas City, Missouri, who earns $9 per hour.

Efforts to block minimum wage hikes, gut health care, deport immigrants or support racist policies will be met with “unrelenting opposition,” Wise said.

“We reject sexism, racism, and we will not allow our family members to be deported,” Wise added during a media conference call with protest organizers on Monday.

Airport baggage handlers, retail workers, fast-food cooks and university graduate assistants will join home-care and child care workers in the massive protest, which will begin at 6 a.m. Nov. 29 – the same time and date that workers first began the “Fight for $15” movement by walking off their jobs at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York in 2012.

Airport baggage handlers, retail workers, fast-food cooks and university graduate assistants will join home-care and child care workers in a massive protest that begins at 6 a.m. Nov. 29 – the same time and date that workers first began the “Fight for $15” movement by walking off their jobs at a McDonald’s restaurant in New York in 2012

Since then, the effort has helped push cities like San Francisco, Seattle and SeaTac, Washington, to adopt $15-an-hour minimum wages. Massachusetts and Oregon home-care workers also won $15-an-hour statewide minimum wages. And employers like Facebook, Aetna, JPMorgan Chase and Nationwide Insurance all hiked employee pay to at least $15 an hour, organizers said.

In all, private- and public-sector employers and local and state lawmakers have adopted pay increases for 22 million American workers, organizers said.

At noon on Nov. 29, protests will take place at some of the nation’s busiest airports, including those in Los Angeles, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Atlanta and Denver. Workers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport will go on strike, organizers said.

“Every day we make sure passengers get to their gates safely, get their luggage and get on a clean plane, but our families can’t get by,” said a statement from Nancy Vasquez, who earns $2.10 an hour plus tips as a skycap at Newark Liberty International Airport. “If huge corporations like the major airlines and McDonald’s paid us $15/hour and respected our right to form a union, our lives and this country would be very different.”

As the #FightFor15 movement and the debate on minimum wage take center stage, we illustrate some of the challenges facing the fast food industry, workers and their families.

LiAnne Flakes, a child care worker in Tampa, Florida, who earns $12.50 an hour, said she’d risk arrest to protest for higher wages. Because of her low pay, Flakes said, she often goes without healthy food and is “constantly moving whenever my rent goes up.”

“This is a big deal for me,” she said during the press call. “It’s something I’ve never done before. I am going to take this step because too many parents do not have access to quality child care and too many underpaid teachers are struggling to pay their bills.”

“It’s not right that so many child care workers are shorthanded with low pay,” she said.

Scott Barish, a research and teaching assistant in the biology department at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, said that although he led class discussions, mentored students and helped write grant proposals, his pay didn’t match his duties.

“When I started working at Duke, I was shocked to see that graduate assistants like me were treated as though our work was not valuable,” Barish told callers.

“We’re not paid enough to meet the rising cost of living, which is why many grad assistants are fighting for unions. so together we can have more power to speak out and create a better work environment. On Nov. 29, we will be out in the streets . . . for higher pay, union rights and respect for all Americans,” Barish said.

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