Yesterday, people around the U.S. took to the streets to demand $15 an hour wages and a union for fast food workers. This struggle is a fight for racial justice.
A truly multi-racial and multi-ethnic movement, this mobilization of low-wage workers that began with fast-food workers in New York in November 2012.
Why is the fight for $15 a fight for racial justice? Some of the reasons that the Black Youth Project 100 lists include:
- Black folks make up only 11.4% of the national employed population in 2014, but we made up 20.5% of fast food workers.
- 46% of Chicago’s Black workers are in low-wage jobs.
- 1/2 of all Black workers in New York City are low wage workers
- A $15 per hour Chicago minimum wage would give a raise to an estimated 510,000 workers representing 38 percent of Chicago’s workforce.
- 1/2 of all low wage workers in NYC are Women
This 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds that nearly 20% of all fast-food workers are Latino/a. Looking at fast-food workers as a whole, the majority (53%) are more than 21 years old, with a high school diploma – contradicting the notion that these are “jobs for teens, who only want to work part-time”. In fact, fast-food workers are adults, trying to support themselves and their families on poverty wages. The overwhelming majority of fast-food workers in the U.S. — a staggering 68% — are earning between $7.26-$10.09. These are wages that guarantee you remain in poverty even if you’re working full-time.
These poverty wages are what support huge profits at franchises and corporations like McDonald’s and Burger King. So, it’s perhaps not surprising that one of the big opponents of the Fight for $15 is the International Franchise Association, the world’s largest organization representing franchise owners, which calls the protests “a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign”.
Reports are that some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US. While the Fight for $15 movement started with fast-food workers and a one-day strike by about 200 or so cooks and order-takers in NYC, that galvanized other people into a broad movement of low-wage workers around the U.S.
“This is the whole civil rights movement all over again,” says Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Professor Chaison (quoted in The Guardian), says:
“What is really significant about the Fight for $15 movement is – most labor disputes, look inside, they’re about a group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement. In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.”
If you’d like to take some action to support the Fight for $15, visit the organizers’ website.