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Fight For $15 Workers Ahead of Historic House Vote: ‘There’s Nothing We Can’t Achieve’

July 18, 2019

By Joe Maniscalco

Fast Food workers striking in NYC.
From the beginning, Fight for $15 champions defied critics who insisted the minimum wage could not be raised.

New York, NY – After a seven-year struggle to get House Democrats to act on a $15 an hour minimum wage, fast food workers and other low wage earners in the town that kicked off the Fight For $15 movement in 2012, are feeling there’s nothing they can’t achieve through collective action.

“We can’t think of ourselves as individuals; we have to think of ourselves as ‘we’ — just like Dr. King was trying to tell us. This is us living out his dream,” Shantel Walker, 37, told LaborPress on Wednesday. 

House Democrats, on Thursday, finally passed a bill slowly phasing in a new $15 an hour federal minimum wage by 2025. 

Walker was a Papa John’s manager in Brooklyn earning just $7.50 an hour when the SEIU-backed Fight For $15 movement first started to gather steam several years ago, and the thought of raising the calcified federal minimum wage still seemed “preposterous” and “unattainable” to many. 

“It was so hard,” Walker said. 

Since then, however, the fast food veteran turned activist says workers have inspired each other and learned how to upset the political landscape. 

“So many have applauded us and wanted to join us and help us — everybody. It’s about changing the playing field,” Walker said. 

At 55, airport worker Juniya Montomery is “looking at the possibility of becoming a homeowner.” The bump up to $15 an hour — already widely instituted here in New York City — has added more than $8,200 to Montomery’s bottom line. 

“Your credit looks better,” Montomery told LaborPress. “I can attest to the increase having a positive impact on the way you feel about going to work. It does prove that a collective power has tremendous affect. If we can get a wage increase to $15 an hour, the skies the limit —vacation pay, healthcare, better treatment on the job.”

The Republican-controlled Senate must now also back a $15 an hour minimum wage for the effort to move forward — something that, again, absolutely no one anticipates will actually happen. 

Instead, critics of a nationwide $15 an hour federal minimum wage claim that the increase would lead to a loss of more than a million jobs. 

But immediately after the House Vote on Thursday afternoon, longtime $15 an hour champion and 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), called on Senate Majority Leader  Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on the bill in the upper chamber. 

“If Senator McConnell wants to vote against that bill and explain to the people of Kentucky why he believes a $7.25 minimum wage is acceptable to him that is his prerogative,” Sanders said in a statement. “But he should not deny the rest of the Senate the opportunity to vote for this bill and increase wages for 40 million Americans. No one who has a job in America should be living in poverty. Let the Senate vote.” 

New 32BJ SEIU President Kyle Bragg issued a statement dedicating this week’s victory in the House to the advocacy work of his late predecessor Héctor Figueroa, who died suddenly on July 11. Bragg also vowed to keep pressing the fight to establish a federal $15 an hour minimum wage. 

“This landmark progress for working people should not stop at the Senate’s door,” Bragg said. “In honor of Héctor, we will fight like never before so that by 2020, we elect a majority of leaders in Washington who support a $15 minimum wage. The American people have had enough of the rigged system that has left the minimum wage the lowest it has been in 50 years. Today, the House listened to the majority of voters who support raising the wage to $15. Next year, voters will remember which members of Congress voted to balance the scales and lift millions of Americans out of poverty by supporting the $15 an hour minimum wage.”

Walker remains undeterred by Republican opposition as well

“We are focusing on the movement that we had in the past — and we’re going to move forward,” she vowed. 

July 18, 2019

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