BY ANTHONY SPEELMAN
Each Labor Day, we celebrate all amazing accomplishments and progress that organized labor has made for all American workers: the weekend, the five-day workweek, child labor laws, holiday pay, the 8-hour workday, just to name a few that come to mind. Looking forward, the fight for workers’ rights and respect is never over and there is still much work to do. As the gap between the wealthy few and the rest of America continues to grow, more must be done to address the many Americans who are struggling to survive in part-time, low-wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage is a good place to start. And while Congressional Republicans have decided to turn their backs on American workers everywhere by failing to advance legislation to raise the minimum wage, states and cities are taking the matter into their own hands.
This year, states and localities from California to New Jersey will be raising their own minimum wage to levels higher than the current federal rate of $7.25 per hour. Seattle recently raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour, and the San Diego City Council just voted to raise its minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017. In Los Angeles, activists have submitted a proposed ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for workers who work at least two hours a week, including tipped workers. San Francisco will be voting on $15 per hour this year.
That is why our union is proud to lead the local and state efforts to raise the minimum wage. The UFCW’s 1.3 million members stand together for fair wages, and decent benefits and working conditions on the job. Union members know as well as anyone that rising tides lift all boats and, right now, millions of workers are drowning in their low-wage, part-time jobs.
Here in New York, too many hard working men and women are struggling to stay afloat in a fragile economy. New York flaunts itself as a progressive capital, yet our laws protecting workers and wages don’t compete with states like Vermont, Washington and Rhode Island. All will have higher minimum wages than ours (New York’s) by January 1, 2015. This is unacceptable since we all know firsthand how expensive it is to make ends meet living in New York.
Movements like the “Fight for 15” and “Fast Food Strikes” have brought workers wages and conditions to national discussion. McDonald’s was just at the center of a very important National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) ruling, where they argued they weren’t responsible for their 14,000 franchises’ treatment of workers. The Labor Board disagreed, and found McDonald’s liable for the treatment of their workers across their franchises in America. This was sadly an unsurprising move from today’s corporation, trying to pass the buck, make an excuse and not take responsibility for its treatment of workers.
What’s disappointing is an enormous corporation like McDonald’s has tried to hide behind its franchisers and not do the ethical and right thing for people. Movements like these are integral to our respect and progress in organized labor. The national opinion on these issues is in our favor. America wants better treatment of workers, better jobs and higher wages. Why can’t we get it?
Congressional Republicans and their corporate backers have stuck to the same old, tired argument that raising the minimum wage will be bad for businesses. However, a recent study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that states that raised the minimum wage experienced faster employment growth than the states that didn’t. While the states and localities that have raised the minimum wage should be lauded, too many working Americans are falling out of the middle class — a problem that calls for a federal solution. This is an election year, and UFCW Local 1500 urges all our elected officials to think (and take action!) about the many voters who are struggling to make ends meet and raise the minimum wage. Please remember this and while you’re enjoying your Labor Day, discuss this with your family, coworkers and friends. Happy Labor Day!
Anthony Speelman is secretary-treasurer for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.