Fast food workers, others strike for higher pay and a union

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HUNDREDS OF LOW-WAGE WORKERS in St. Louis City and County joined workers in strikes and protests in 300 cities across the country on Labor Day to demand $15/hour and union rights. – Labor Tribune photo

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

On Labor Day, one week after the State of Missouri forced St. Louis to roll back it’s higher $10 minimum wage to the state’s paltry $7.70 an hour, hundreds of area fast food workers joined in nationwide strikes and protests, calling for higher wages and union rights.

The local protest kicked off early Labor Day morning at the McDonald’s restaurant at 1119 Tucker Blvd. in St. Louis. Workers also walked out in strikes and protests in Kansas City and some 300 cities across the country demanding $15/hour and union rights.

Since launching on Nov. 29, 2012, the Fight for $15 movement has spurred wage hikes totaling more than $62 billion for 22 million underpaid workers, including more than 10 million who are on their way to $15/hour, by convincing everyone from voters to politicians to corporations to raise their pay.

OTHERS TAKE ACTION

Fast food and other low-wage workers rally downtown before the start of the 2017 Labor Day Parade. – Labor Tribune photo

What started with fast food workers has grown to include other low-wage workers such as janitors, nursing home workers, dietary aides, nurses’ assistants, transporters and others who work in America’s hospitals.

“Good union jobs in factories once created stable, secure work that allowed families to thrive,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, the largest organization of healthcare workers in the United States.

“Hospital work and other service work is now the backbone of our economy, but too many Americans who work in these jobs are falling behind. It’s time to rewrite the rules so people doing today’s service work can form unions, raise wages, and lift up millions of families.”

NO LONGER OUTLANDISH

Workers have taken what many viewed as an outlandish proposition – $15/hour – and made it the new labor standard in New York, California, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis.

Home care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15/hour statewide minimum wages and companies including Facebook, Aetna, Amalgamated Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Nationwide Insurance have raised pay to $15/hour or higher.

In June, Minneapolis became the first Midwestern city to adopt a $15/hour minimum wage, raising pay for an estimated 71,000 workers.

Mayors in Cleveland and Atlanta this summer announced plans to raise pay for all city employees to $15/hour.

In August, Democrats made a $15/hour a central piece of their “Better Deal” plan.

Low-wage workers and their allies marching in downtown St. Louis at the start of the 2017 Labor Day parade. – Labor Tribune photo

PREEMPTION AND ANTI-UNION POLICIES

However, politicians from state houses to governors’ mansions have pushed anti-union and preemption policies that limit workers’ ability to win higher pay.

Before 2012, Iowa was the only so-called “right-to-work” state in the region, but now there are six, including Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Missouri.

Implementation of Missouri’s “right-to-work” law has been suspended while the Secretary of State’s office and local election authorities review some 310,567 signatures collected by workers to repeal the law by placing it on the Nov. 6, 2018 ballot for voters to decide.

In Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Kentucky state legislators and governors have blocked or rolled back minimum wage increases approved by voters and local elected leaders — including the St. Louis increase and a $15/hour minimum wage passed earlier this month by voters in Kansas City.

HAVE YOU SIGNED YET?

St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece and Kansas City Mayor Sly James and other elected leaders have endorsed a grassroots effort led by Raise Up Missouri to collect the signatures required to place a statewide $12/hour minimum wage initiative on the Nov. 2018 ballot.

If approved by voters, the measure would gradually raise the statewide minimum wage by 85 cents a year, until it reaches $12/hour in 2023, impacting about 500,000 workers – or one in five Missourians. 

Workers will need approximately 100,000 signatures in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to put the issue on the ballot.

Workers and their allies in St. Louis are also urging employers to raise – not lower – the pay for working people in the city. So far, 135 St. Louis employers have taken the pledge to #SaveTheRaise and continue paying the of $10 minimum wage, despite the rollback prompted by the Missouri Legislature’s preemption legislation.

‘UNIONS ARE THE ONLY WAY’

“America needs unions,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said in a video statement supporting the Labor Day strikes and protests.

“Unions are the only way workers have ever gotten ahead in this country. And today, unions are the only shot for workers to take back the country and fight back against corporate interests that have rigged the system against them.”

VOTER ENGAGEMENT

Fed up with lawmakers who have blocked minimum wage increases and gutted union rights, the Fight for $15 and the Service Employees International Union have announced they are joining forces for a massive voter engagement drive aimed at unseating anti-worker politicians and electing leaders who support a $15/hour minimum wage and union rights.

By engaging voters via door-to-door canvassing, digital and radio advertising and mail, SEIU and the Fight for $15 intend to show that those who have given up on the political process will reengage if politicians speak to issues that improve the lives of working Americans.

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