By TIM ROWDEN
Low Wage workers in St. Louis joined with thousands of workers in 340 cities across the country Nov. 29 on strike and protesting for $15 an hour and union rights on the job. Fast food workers, janitors, airport workers, St. Louis clergy, Washington University Students and faculty, and community organizations stood together to demand an economy that works for everyone.
Hundreds of low-wage workers in St. Louis and thousands nationwide took to the streets in Fight for $15 protests calling for a hike in the minimum wage, better working conditions and union protections on the job.
The Fight for $15 is supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
“We need to change wage and equality issue for all workers in the United States,” SEIU Local 1 Missouri Division Vice President Nancy Cross said. “SEIU supports the Fight for $15 and all workers making more money.”
In St. Louis, the protests started at 6 a.m. with underpaid fast-food cooks and cashiers shutting down the McDonalds at 1119 North Tucker Boulevard downtown during morning rush hour. Managers closed the dining area and protesters blocked the drive through calling to the workers inside “Come on out, we’ve got your back.”
Following the morning action, fast-food workers, custodial staff, adjunct faculty and airport workers demonstrated at Lambert International Airport (see related story at the bottom of this article) before heading to an evening action outside a McDonald’s on Hampton Avenue near Interstate 44, where police arrested 30 protesters who engaged in civil disobedience by sitting in the street, blocking traffic during evening rush hour.
‘WILLING TO TAKE THIS RISK’
“I’m willing to take this risk,” said Wanda Rogers, who works at the McDonald’s at Hampton. “I need a living wage and union rights, and my family and community need me to have a good job. Nothing is going to turn me back, and getting arrested for my fight shows the world how serious I am.”
Roughly 200 protesters marched around the McDonald’s holding signs that read “Show Me 15” and chanting “I believe that we will win” before those willing to be arrested broke off to peacefully sit in the street. Police had blocked off traffic for the protesters and arrested them after they refused to move.
“As a child I watched black men and women fighting racism and discrimination, and I feel like I’m continuing that fight today. It looks a little different, but people back then wanted dignity and respect, and we still want it now,” said Bettie Douglas, who also works at the McDonald’s on Hampton.
Douglas, 59, said the $7.90-an-hour she makes at McDonald’s is not enough to care for her family, which includes a 16-year-old son with autism and a 35-year-old adult son who moved back in with her after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Her family went two winters without heat, she said, because she couldn’t work as many hours as she needed to pay the bill while spending time at the hospital.
“It’s a struggle,” Douglas said. “I work hard. I just deserve a living wage.”
CLERGY AMONG THOSE ARRESTED
Rev. Dr. Martin Rafanan, coordinator of Missouri the Missouri Jobs with Justice Champions Programs, was among those who took arrest last week. He and the others were later released.
The next day, Rafanan and other volunteers, including several other members of the clergy, walked workers back to their jobs to ensure they would not be retaliated against for having exercised their rights to go on strike.
“My faith tells me that every person is special in the sight of God and deserves their full human dignity and respect,” Rafanan said. “I don’t believe people get that when they don’t have a job that pays a fair wage.”
The federal minimum wage is $7.25, although there are higher minimums in some states. Missouri’s minimum wage for example is $7.65 an hour and set to increase to $7.70 next year. In Illinois, the minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.
The nationwide wave of strikes, civil disobedience, and protests followed an election defined by workers’ frustration with a rigged economy that benefits the few at the top and comes exactly four years after 200 fast-food cooks and cashiers in New York City first walked off their jobs, sparking a movement for $15 and union rights that has compelled private-sector employers and local and state elected representatives to raise pay for 22 million Americans.
A report released on the day of the strikes by the National Employment Law Project shows the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises for working families since that first strike in 2012. That’s 10 times larger than the total raise received by workers in all 50 states under Congress’s last federal minimum wage increase, approved in 2007.
Voters are getting on board as well. Wages increases were approved by voters this year in Maine, Arizona, Colorado and Washington.
“Our modern economy is fueled by our nation’s service sector,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement. “These workers – child care and home care providers, airport workers, and higher education faculty – care for our parents and children and educate our future generations. Their work gives American families and consumers the choice and freedom to do their jobs and care for their families. But the value of this work is not reflected in their pay. Too many service and care workers who work full time still struggle to make ends meet for their families.
“Thanks to the power of workers coming together through collective action in the Fight for $15 movement, 22 million workers have seen their wages raised,” Henry said. “Raising wages puts money in the pockets of working people who spend it in their communities; that’s good for our families, good for our economy, and good for America.”
SEIU Local 1, community allies rally for airport workers
Demonstration was part of Fight for $15 national day of action
By SHERI GASSAWAY
SEIU Local 1 members and community allies joined together Nov. 29 at Lambert St. Louis International Airport to rally for $15 an hour and union rights on the job for airport janitors.
The protest was one of a number of protests at airports across the country including Chicago O’Hare, Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., Newark Liberty Airport, Boston Logan and other major U.S. airports.
In St. Louis, a group of about 50 boisterous protesters formed a line across Gates 2 and 3 at the airport’s East Terminal around the lunch hour. The demonstration was part of the Fight for $15 day of action, which took place in more than 340 cities across the nation.
“We’re standing up today because too many working people struggle to make ends meet, no matter how hard or how long they work, while corporations continue to make record profits,” SEIU Local 1 Missouri Division Vice President Nancy Cross said. “We’re here to continue the Fight for $15 and union rights for janitors at Lambert St. Louis Airport.”
Taleah Gray-Turner, a member of the SEIU Local 1 Action Brigade leadership program, attended the rally. She was a janitor at the airport until Oct. 10 when she was let go due to staffing cutbacks.
“I’m here today fighting for a voice on behalf of airport janitors and my rights,” Gray-Turner said. “Had I been a member of a union, I would not have lost my job.”
The rally at the airport was one of three protests in the St. Louis area that took place as part of the Fight for $15 national day of action. Two other protests were held at local McDonalds. One of those events resulted in 30 protestors being arrested.