Thursday, October 11, 2018
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Fight For 15 Workers in 7 States Demand Union Representation and a Living Wage

Interview with Laura Huizar, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, conducted by Scott Harris

Low-wage workers engaged in the fight for increased pay and improved working conditions took to the streets between Oct. 2 and 4. The strikes, protests and rallies organized by the Fight For 15 movement, took place in seven states across the U.S. in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, California and Connecticut. In addition to calling for a living wage of $15 an hour, fast food, airport, hospital and childcare workers were also were demanding the right to unionize.
On Oct. 2 in Detroit, 18 demonstrators were face disorderly conduct charges after they were arrested at a Detroit McDonald’s. Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, was among those arrested.
The “Fight for 15” national workers alliance was founded in 2012 and backed by the Service Employees International Union, which has initiated other successful organizing drives, including the Justice for Janitors campaign. Fight For 15 is now engaged in campaigns to defeat anti-worker politicians across the U.S. in the 2018 midterm election. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Laura Huizar, staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project, who talks about the goals of these most recent Fight For 15 workers’ actions, and comments on Amazon.com’s announcement that it will raise the companies’ minimum wage to $15 an hour.

LAURA HUIZAR: Well, this latest action is one part of a series of actions that I think has been going on since 2012, when the campaign first started in November of 2012 and workers came out in New York City in support of both $15 as a minimum wage and a union. So this is a part of a long trajectory for the Fight for 15 and a movement that’s been building across the country. And the demand continues to be the same. It’s a $15 minimum wage and a good union to support workers in all areas of work that makes jobs quality jobs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us a bit about maybe what happened around the country. I’ve read there were some arrests in Detroit – civil disobedience – but what kinds of things happened around the country and these seven states? Maybe a few of the highlights you can summarize for us.

LAURA HUIZAR: Yes. The workers came out on strike, for example, in Chicago at the McDonald’s headquarters. There were some arrests there – protesters. Yeah, I think in some cases, I think folks have said that up to a 1,000 people came out in support of these actions and I think it’s the reflection of the momentum that the Fight for 15 has really built over the last six years – at this point, almost six years – and it was workers of Chicago and Milwaukee, Detroit, San Jose and cities across the country who came out. There was a great show again of force.

BETWEEN THE LINES: With the wages, there’s also a fight for unions, as you said. What are some of the current obstacles for workers who want to join a union or form a union of their own on the worksite at places like these chain fast food restaurants and big box stores and other worksite venues where they currently don’t have the opportunity for union representation.

LAURA HUIZAR: You know, unfortunately for years, now, I think that corporations and actors on the right have put a lot of money into making it harder for workers to come together and form a union. And most recently, this year, the U.S. Supreme Court made it very hard or much harder for public sector workers to come together as a union and collect dues due to the Janus (v AFSCME) decision. But that was just the latest, I think in a long history now of efforts to take away unions’ power and make it harder for workers to come together.

But I think there are still many ways in which workers can come together, assert that they want to be in a union, work with organizers who are incredibly committed and talented around the country to do that. Corporations will no doubt continue to spend a lot of money to scare workers, to put out bad messaging and bad arguments about what unions mean or could mean for workers. But I think that with wages having stagnated for so long and conditions having gotten so bad for so many workers, a lot more are looking to unions as a solution and a way to build power as workers and demand what workers believe they need and to assert those demands before corporations who do hold a lot of power.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Laura, I did want to ask you about your view on the recent announcement from Amazon Corporation that they will be increasing minimum wage of $15 as of Nov. 1 for warehouse workers and some of their temporary seasonal employees. What’s the importance of this announcement, if any?

LAURA HUIZAR: It’s an important first step for Amazon, I think, in showing that they do value their workers and it’s important for our large corporations and large employers to treat their workers fairly. But it is also just a first step. I think Amazon has come under scrutiny and has been criticized from a number of viewpoints: the way that they treat their temporary or staffing employees; the way that they treat their drivers; the way that they organize their warehouses and demand fast-paced work with on-time scheduling that puts workers in truly difficult positions.

And so wages will make a difference for many workers. But it’s those other conditions that are also crucial to address – health and safety among them. And so we hope that Amazon will take the lead, not just in setting a good minimum wage, but showing what corporations can truly do to support their workers and create good jobs.

Learn more about the Fight For 15 workers alliance by visiting their website at Fightfor15.org To learn more about the National Employment Law Project’s website visit NELP.org. 

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