Fight for $15 Convention Votes To Continue Drive Beyond 2016 Election

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Some 3,000 fast food, retail, warehouse and other low-income workers from around the nation, representing the nationwide Fight for 15 And A Union movement, have voted to continue their drive far beyond this year’s election. And they’ve linked economic and racial injustice together.

In addition, the movement plans demonstrations at the sites of the three presidential debates. And it will stage another nationwide fast-food walkout on Sept. 12 as part of what organizers call a “moral revival.” The last fast-food strike, on April 14, saw workers at 320 cities walk out. Workers in another 60 cities worldwide also struck in sympathy.  

Encouraged and supported by Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry and Moral Mondays movement leader the Rev. William Barber, the delegates also took time out from their conclave to march through downtown Richmond, Va., site of their meeting. Dozens of United Food and Commercial Workers joined them.

In a direct message to the two major political parties, the marchers’ main chant was, “If you want our vote, come get our vote!” by supporting their cause.

They chose Richmond, Fight for 15 said, because it was the capital of the Confederacy – and because state governments of the old Confederacy have been the most-resistant to workers’ rights to a decent wage and to unions.

Choice of Richmond also points up the linkage between economic injustice and racial injustice, Barber, who also heads the North Carolina NAACP, said. Minority group members and low-paid women were a large majority of delegates. Richmond is a majority-minority city.

“Some issues are not left versus right, but right versus wrong. We need to embrace our deepest values and push for a revolution of the heart of our democracy,” Barber said in an e-mail excerpt of his keynote speech.

The Fight for 15 movement has won minimum wage increases in more than a dozen states and many cities since it began with a fast-food workers walkout in Manhattan several years ago. “The 13 states that raised their minimum wage in 2014 saw employment increase 45 percent more than the 37 states that didn't,” supporter Christopher Zullo tweeted during the convention.

Fight for 15 has also spread to other low-paid workers nationwide, including warehouse workers, port truck drivers, adjunct professors, nursing assistants, cafeteria workers, home care workers and retail workers. 

“It took us 400 years from slavery to the present to reach $7.25, but that was far too long, and we can’t wait,” Barber said in his keynote address. “We have to stand together and fight together now for $15 and union rights.” The federal minimum wage, now $7.25 hourly, was last raised almost a decade ago.

SEIU, UFCW and other unions have provided logistical and, in SEIU’s case, financial support for Fight for 15, and the marchers have in turn also demanded the right to unionize without employer interference and repression.

Henry called for both white and black workers to unite for an economy that benefits all. “Building this unity is especially important this year, with this election. We all know that one of the candidates for president is trying to divide us in dangerous and sometimes frightening ways,” she said. She meant, but did not name, Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whom SEIU and other unions support, backs the Fight for 15. Outspoken advocacy of the fight for $15 by her remaining Democratic primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders, pushed Clinton to do so. ”I applaud the workers who are demanding $15 an hour and a union. Keep fighting, sisters and brothers,” Sanders tweeted to delegates.

“The moral vision of our Constitution calls on us to push this moment even further – we must shock this nation with the power of love, mercy, and justice for all,” Barber said in an e-mail excerpting his address. “We will not stop marching, stop striking, stop joining together until we win $15 an hour and union rights for all our sisters and brothers across the nation.

“That is the radical message of love. Every person – no matter their faith, background, gender or sexual orientation – deserves to be able to feed their families and pay their rent. The power of love is the power of the Fight for $15.

“And so, we must continue to march, to organize, to shock the heart of the nation. It is our moral duty to revive our democracy and, as the Prophet Isaiah said, become ‘Repairers of the Breach.’"

Convention delegates adopted what organizers called “The Richmond Resolution” pledging the Fight for 15 and a Union would continue and making the linkage between racism, economic exploitation and union-busting. But the U.S. election precedes that. “Eyes on ’16, we want $15,” the delegates chanted.

“Centuries of racism ingrained in the structure of our society and 40 years of corporate attacks on working families fighting for a decent life have left America without a strong middle-class, but the workers of the Fight for $15 are starting to turn the tide,” Henry said. “This year, underpaid Americans will show elected leaders in every state in America that they are a voting bloc that cannot be ignored and will not be denied.”

“We abolished slavery more than 150 years ago, but its legacy is still felt in economic policies and working conditions that hold back Black and Latino working people across America,” Sepia Coleman, a home care worker from Memphis, Tenn., told Fight for 15’s communications staff. 

“When you add in decades of attacks on workers who organized unions, you get a devastating result that has left tens of millions of us unable to support our families. We’re all in the same boat now, so we have no choice but to row together and row forcefully,” she said.

Henry was briefly interrupted by some Fight for 15 staffers, who want to be recognized as employees under labor law so they can vote to join SEIU’s independent union of its own workers, the Union for Union Representatives. One held up a sign reading: “$15 minimum wage and union rights for all means organizers, too!” SEIU later issued a statement backing its own workers’ right to organize.                                  

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