“People Make Up Our City”: Why Seattle’s $15 Minimum Wage Is a Sign of Things to Come

by Amy B. Dean

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle  (15 Now Seattle)

Activists at an April demonstration demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage in Seattle (15 Now Seattle)

For 100,000 working people in Seattle, a newly passed citywide minimum wage of $15 per hour will mean an increased standard of living – and recognition of their contributions to the local economy. “It’s going to help me and a lot of other people,” said Crystal Thompson, 33, a Dominos Pizza customer service representative who currently earns the city minimum wage of $9.32 per hour. “They [the corporations] have been making money off us. I’ve had the same job for five years and [am] still making minimum wage. I open and close the store. I pretty much run the store and do manager shifts and still get paid minimum wage.”

The basic argument behind these campaigns is that a person working full-time shouldn’t have to live in poverty, a precept that has been popularly accepted.

While Seattle is often associated with technology-driven firms such as Microsoft and Amazon, service workers like Thompson provide a critical backbone for the area economy – a trend that also holds nationally. Over the past 20 years, community and labor organizations have united in a living wage movement to raise the floor for these employees and to make sure that prosperity is widely shared throughout the economy. Even as efforts to increase the minimum wage nationally have encountered resistance in Congress, this movement has made great strides at the local and regional levels.

The Seattle victory – part of the national Fight for 15 drive – represents the latest landmark achievement for living wage advocates. The efforts to secure the win over past months, as well as ongoing efforts to protect it from state-level attacks, hold important lessons for the rest of the country.
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Alt-Labor Day, 2013

Fast food workers in dozens of cities staged a national day of strikes on Thursday, August 29. The action sought to galvanize public support for a living wage of $15 per hour, and respect for fast food workers’ right to organize. Employees from restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King called on other retail workers around the country to join them in walking off the job. Many employees, who have had to go on food stamps and public assistance to survive on their industry’s wages, felt they had no choice but to protest their treatment by employers. “My family and I are homeless due to poor pay right now,” Regina Mays, a single mother who works at Little Caesars Pizza in Durham, NC, told reporters in advance of the strike.

The strike capped an active year of organizing by employees at McDonald’s, WalMart, and other low-wage chains. At a time when traditional unions are on the decline, scrappy organizing campaigns among low-wage workers, sometimes called “alt-labor,” are capturing the national spotlight. While their prospects of winning union recognition through the cumbersome election process prescribed by federal law are slim, the workers have nevertheless demanded improvements in working conditions and are eager to use legal collective action to draw public attention to their concerns. Continue reading

Fight for $15, cuz we can’t survive on $8.25!

by Bob Simpson

Downtown Chicago retail and restaurant workers are organizing to fight for a living wage of $15 per hour through their new union, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). On December 22, 2012 WOCC led a march through Chicago’s upscale Magnificent Mile shopping district to press their cause. It ended with a sit-in and 24 arrests next to the Michigan Ave Macy’s.

Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest by Workplace Injuries, Illnesses

by Mike Hall

Low-Wage-Workers-Hit-Hardest-by-Workplace-Injuries-Illnesses_blogpostimageIt’s a double whammy for low-wage workers when they get hurt or fall ill on the job.

First, they lose pay because the vast majority (more than 80%) of low-wage workers do not have any paid sick leave to take time off to recover. Second, not only does the pay check shrink, but because of inadequate workers’ compensation laws, they must shoulder a bigger portion of their health care costs with those smaller paychecks. That means workers and their communities must bear a larger share of the $39 billion (in 2010) that workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation.

A new policy brief, “Mom’s Off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” examines the growing problem.

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Why are the people caring for our older parents and grandparents excluded from minimum wage and overtime pay?

by Richard Negri

We don’t usually think about home care workers until our parents or grandparents need their services. They are the workers who are in the homes with the patients, and who have to deal with the most intimate responsibilities. They are caregivers who believe that everyone — no matter their age or illness — deserve proper care, companionship, and, in many cases, love.

And they deliver!

Most people don’t realize that these hard workers are excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections. No matter the intense and often thankless work, many have to have two or three jobs just to make ends meet; yet they are taking care of our parents and grandparents in ways we cannot.
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The Quiet War on American Workers

Soldiers surround peaceful demonstrators durin...

Image via Wikipedia

by Jake Blumgart

Labor Day was born out of one of America’s bloodiest labor strikes. In 1893, Eugene Debs, a famous socialist who was instrumental in founding the American Railway Union, led the workers against railroad tycoon George Pullman. But Pullman was backed by at least 12,000 federal soldiers—nearly half the American army at the time. Ultimately, the Pullman Strike was unsuccessful: 13 strikers were killed (some by federal bullets) and many more were wounded. Debs and the other leaders were arrested and jailed. To appease resulting protests against the government’s heavy-handed intervention, President Grover Cleveland signed legislation that recognized the first Monday in September as Labor Day. Um, yay?

Today, labor struggles are generally less gory, but workers still pay a terrible price for America’s backwards labor laws and preferential treatment of big business. A report released last week made it clear that there is still a quiet war being waged against workers that denies millions of workers a living wage and union representation.

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Rat Retired? (cafeteria workers vs. Aramark)

by Mike Hirsch

Cafeteria workers taking on Aramark, the food service giant that pays starvation wages to fatten rich corporate executives, were joined in front of Wall Street’s First Bank of New York today by a giant inflatable animal. No, it wasn’t the looming, fanged, ubiquitous rat that New York City construction workers and others use to draw public attention to contractors hiring non-union help at work sites or urge support for contract fights and organizing drives. In its place was a giant skunk. No comment yet from the UNITE-HERE executive dining room workers on the fate of the rat; one said he thought it was pensioned off, but they all insisted the skunk was a pretty good mascot, too. Why? “Because Aramark stinks,” they all agreed.