June 15, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The nationwide campaign for a $15 an hour minimum wage is unquestionably a tremendous win for long suffering fast food workers struggling to survive — but it also has the potential of becoming the single biggest victory the Labor Movement has scored in years.
“There’s no doubt about it,” 32BJ SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Kyle Bragg told LaborPress just prior to Monday morning’s Fast Food Wage Board hearing at NYU. “The ‘fight for $15’ is more than $15 an hour — it’s $15 and a union. People want a livable wage, but they also want representation in the workplace. They want to have healthcare, they want to retire with dignity. There shouldn’t be a question in anyone’s mind that this is a collective effort from the union, our community partners and the workers themselves.”
Fast Food Forward — the coalition hugely responsible for $15 an hour minimum wage victories in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles — receives funding from the Service Employees International Union, and is now poised to post another win in the place where the entire movement began — New York City.
According to Comptroller Scott Stinger’s office, boosting Gotham’s minimum wage to $15 an hour will immediately impact 90,000 fast food workers, and put $10 billion in the hands of 1.5 million New Yorkers.
“When we work together and we put our faith and resources behind low-wage workers, we can win,” 32BJ SEIU President HéctorFigueroa told LaborPress. “If we allow workers to lead, we can build the Labor Movement. We can raise wages for working families and make our economy better.”
Stuart Appelbaum, RWDSU president and UFCW International executive vice-president, said that too many hardworking New Yorkers across many different industries have consigned themselves to living in poverty.
“Raising wages for fast food workers is an important step in addressing a much larger problem that includes fast food workers, retail workers, workers in car washes, healthcare, airports, service workers and countless others who also need our aid,” Appelbaum said.
Despite expected pushback from the restaurant industry, Governor Cuomo’s Fast Food Wage Board is under tremendous pressure to recommend New York join other places on the west coast that have already gone to $15 an hour.
New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul called current economic conditions in the fast food industry “intolerable” and an “injustice.”
“I’m here to get my dignity back” said Jarrell Ware, a 34-year-old McDonald’s worker who still lives at home with his parents. “It’s embarrassing. It’s time for us to take a stand, and here we are taking a stand.”
Success is already apparent in Seattle, where the restaurant industry is both thriving and hiring more workers, since establishing a $15 an hour minimum. That kind of success, and organized labor’s undeniable role in creating it, could become the sea change unions have been hoping to achieve for a very long time.
“At the end of the day, people will see that this is the direction the country needs to go in,” said Bragg.