Thousands Unite with Underpaid Workers Across CA on Fight for 15 Day of Action
by Rachel Johnson, California Labor Federation
Thousands took part in strikes and protests April 15 in one of the largest mobilizations of underpaid working people in history. Actions across California from Los Angeles to Sacramento gave working people the opportunity to stand with low wage workers who bravely went on strike and walked out mid-shift to send the message: we will not stop until we win $15 an hour and a union.
Fast-food workers led the march through Berkeley April 15 to demand higher wages and the right to a union.
These widespread actions in support of higher wages and the right to a union show that the “Fight for $15” and a union has grown into a social justice movement that has spread worldwide. People are standing up—not only for fast-food workers who started this movement over two years ago, but for child care providers, home care providers, adjunct faculty, security officers, and Walmart workers, and so many more.
In Los Angeles, speaking to a diverse crowd of workers and allies standing in solidarity, Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said: “Our time has come. We are not going back. We will disrupt, demand, organize but we will not stop until we get what we want—Fight for the $15. Workers deserve a raise.”
Looking ahead, Time’s Rana Foroohar wrote, “Politicians are going to have to grapple with this in the election cycle, because as the latest round of wage protests makes clear, the issue isn't going away anytime soon.” Several local elected leaders have promised support for the movement and for workers. In Berkeley during the march, Mayor Ruth Atkin of Emeryville, CA told the crowd of plans to raise the wage in her city: “Keep your eyes on our town,” she said. “We will make history for workers!”
Among those who protested was former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who wrote on his Facebook page that, “Today I took part at a ‘fight for 15’ rally for workers at a McDonalds in Oakland, California, where a striking worker—a 35-year-old mother—told me she worked all hours but still had to rely on public assistance because McDonalds doesn’t pay enough to lift her and her family out of poverty.
“Connect the dots: (1) Big corporations have parked over $1.5 trillion of their profits abroad, to avoid U.S. taxes. (2) Corporate tax rates in the U.S. are lower than they’ve been in seventy years. (3) American corporations are furiously lobbying for even lower taxes. (4) They’re also fighting efforts to raise the minimum wage. Meanwhile: (5) Giant companies like Walmart and McDonalds don’t pay their employees enough to get out of poverty. (6) Which means those employees have to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance. (7) Which are financed through our tax payments. (8) So, even as Walmart, McDonalds, and other big companies to everything possible to reduce their taxes and fight against raising the minimum wage, and refuse to pay their workers a living wage, you and I are subsidizing their low wages through our own tax payments in order to prevent millions of Americans from falling into poverty. There’s something wrong with this picture.”
Romina Loreto and Whitfield McTair from SEIU United Service Workers West marched in solidarity with low wage workers calling for a livable wage.
Unions represented at the march included IBEW 1245, SEIU-UHW, United Farm Workers, California Faculty Association, and Communication Workers of America. Photos by Paul Burton