September 9, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – This year, New York City’s Labor Day Parade expanded to include low-wage, non-union employees – and struggling fast food workers fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage say that marching along 5th Avenue with their union brothers and sisters has brought them closer to finally achieving their ultimate goal.
“It’s inspiring to see all of these people out here,” said Shantel Walker, 32. “We all want the same thing.”
Walker is a manager at a Papa John’s outlet in Bedford Stuyvesant. But despite her title, and being with the company since before 2002, she still only makes $8.50 an hour.
“I think that’s a disgrace after all the hard work and training I put in over the years,” Walker said. “But I’m going to keep fighting until we win – and we will win.”
Walker stood with members of 32BJ SEIU on West 46th Street for her chance to join this year’s Labor Day Parade along 5th Avenue. Héctor Figueroa, the president of the union, said that standing up for low-wage workers like Walker is what the Labor Movement should be all about.
“We’re sending a clear message that the priority for the Labor Movement today is to lift the standards of low-wage workers,” Figueroa said. “Fast food workers have been leading this fight around the country, and airport workers are joining that fight, too. Labor should be about, 'How do we fix the problem of income inequality in this country, and make work pay again for everyone?' No matter what kind of job you do – you should be paid a living wage.”
Noting that Seattle, Washington is already on its way to a $15 an hour minimum wage, the 32BJ SEIU president said that, at some point, with a supportive state senate, the same thing can be accomplished here in New York.
“We believe that if we win the senate in New York, we have the ability to win a $15 an hour minimum wage,” Figueroa said.
For Walker – who says she often can’t afford to buy Christmas presents for her family on a Papa John’s manger’s salary – that day can’t come soon enough.
“I’m hoping that we get to $15 an hour in 2014,” Walker said.
While New York is still far away from a $15 an hour minimum wage, Figueroa insisted that the ultimate goal is real, and will be achieved in the foreseeable future.
“It’s happening,” Figueroa said. “It’s real; $15 an hour doesn’t impress anybody anymore as something unattainable. It’s just a question of when.”
For Walker, marching in this year’s Labor Day Parade did, indeed, signal a sea change for low-wager workers like her – and a reason to hope.
“This march is very important because we don’t want tomorrow to look like yesterday for our children,” Walker said.