Protests for US$15 min­i­mum wage ex­pand scale

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY CANDICE CHOI

The Fight for US$15 cam­paign that be­gan with fast-food work­ers ex­panded in size and scope Wed­nes­day to in­clude a range of work­ers who say their mea­ger pay is a form of eco­nomic injustice.

Or­ga­niz­ers said demon­stra­tions were planned for more than 230 U.S. cities and col­lege cam­puses, as well as dozens of cities over­seas.

In New York City, more than 100 chant­ing pro­test­ers hold­ing signs with mes­sages like “We See Greed” gath­ered out­side a McDon­ald’s around noon, prompt­ing the store to lock its doors to pre­vent the crowd from tak­ing over the store.

Demon­stra­tors laid on the side­walk to stage a “die-in,” which be­came popular dur­ing the “Black Lives Mat­ter” protests af­ter re­cent po­lice shoot­ings of black men. Sev­eral wore hooded sweat­shirts that said “I Can’t Breathe,” a nod to the re­cent death of a black man in New York City who was put in a po­lice choke­hold.

Ti­mothy Roach, a 21-year-old Wendy’s worker from Mil­wau­kee, Wis­con­sin, who trav­eled to New York for the protests, said the po­lice bru­tal­ity black men face is linked to how they’re viewed by em­ploy­ers and the lack of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity they’re given. He said the protests were im­por­tant to send a mes­sage to the peo­ple in charge at com­pa­nies like McDon­ald’s.

“If they don’t see that it mat­ters to us, then it won’t mat­ter to them,” Roach said.

In Jack­son, Mis­sis­sippi, around 30 peo­ple demon­strated in a McDon­ald’s be­fore be­ing kicked out. Or­ga­niz­ers said about half of them were McDon­ald’s work­ers, although a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for McDon­ald’s Corp. said its lo­cal team found only one par­tic­i­pant was a McDon­ald’s worker from the re­gion. One of the demon­stra­tors was ar­rested for tres­pass­ing.

Pro­test­ers also gath­ered out­side McDon­ald’s restau­rants in cities in­clud­ing Den­ver and Los An­ge­les, af­ter demon­stra­tions got off to an early start in Bos­ton and Detroit on Tues­day. In Al­bany, New York, about 150 peo­ple marched and demon­strated out­side a McDon­ald’s.

The Fight for US$15 cam­paign is be­ing spear­headed by the Ser­vice Em­ploy­ees In­ter­na­tional Union and be­gan in late 2012. Since then, or­ga­niz­ers have used the spot­light to rally work­ers in a va­ri­ety of fields, with ad­junct pro­fes­sors be­ing the most re­cent to join in Wed­nes­day.

Ken­dall Fells, or­ga­niz­ing direc­tor for Fight for US$15 and an SEIU em­ployee, said McDon­ald’s re­mains a fo­cus of the protests and that the com­pany’s re­cently an­nounced pay bump shows fast­food work­ers al­ready have a de facto union.

“It shows the work­ers are win­ning,” he said.

McDon­ald’s ear­lier this month said it would raise its start­ing sal- ary to US$1 above the lo­cal min­i­mum wage, and give work­ers the abil­ity to ac­crue paid time off. It marked the first na­tional pay pol­icy by McDon­ald’s, and in­di­cates the com­pany wants to take con­trol of its im­age as an em­ployer more than two years af­ter the protests be­gan. But the move only ap­plies to work­ers at com­pany- owned stores, which ac­count for about 10 per­cent of more than 14,300 lo­ca­tions.

That means McDon­ald’s is dig­ging in its heels over a cen­tral is­sue for la­bor or­ga­niz­ers: Whether it has the power to set wages at fran­chised restau­rants.

McDon­ald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s say they don’t con­trol the em­ploy­ment de­ci­sions at fran­chised restau­rants. The SEIU wants to change that and hold McDon­ald’s re­spon­si­ble for la­bor con­di­tions at fran­chised restau­rants in mul­ti­ple ways, in­clud­ing law­suits.

In a state­ment, McDon­ald’s said it re­spects the right to “peace­fully protest” and that its restau­rants will re­main open Wed­nes­day. In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDon­ald’s work­ers out of about 800,000 have par­tic­i­pated.

In a re­cent col­umn in The Chicago Tri­bune, McDon­ald’s CEO Steve Easter­brook de­scribed the com­pany’s pay hike and other perks as “an ini­tial step,” and said he wants to trans­form McDon­ald’s into a “mod­ern, pro­gres­sive burger com­pany.”

But that trans­for­ma­tion will have to take place as la­bor or­ga­niz­ers con­tinue ral­ly­ing public sup­port for low-wage work­ers. Ahead of the protests this week, a study funded by the SEIU found work­ing fam­i­lies rely on US$153 bil­lion in public as­sis­tance a year as a re­sult of their low wages.

Last year, more than a dozen states and mul­ti­ple cities raised their min­i­mum wages, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has also been tar­geted with protests for higher wages and bet­ter treat­ment for work­ers, re­cently an­nounced pay hikes as well.

Robert Re­ich, for­mer La­bor Sec­re­tary and a pro­fes­sor of public pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, said stag­nat­ing wages for lower-in­come work­ers are help­ing change neg­a­tive at­ti­tudes about unions.

“Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to won­der if they’d be bet­ter off with bar­gain­ing power,” Re­ich said.

AP

Pro­test­ers, in­clud­ing col­lege stu­dents, fast-food restau­rant em­ploy­ees and other work­ers, dis­play plac­ards and chant slo­gans as they march on Tues­day, April 14 in Bos­ton.

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