The Fight for $15: ‘They Can’t Ignore Us’

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Ana B. Nieto of El Diario reports about the fight by workers to obtain a $15 minimum wage. In the first story excerpted below, she covers a rally in front of a McDonald’s on the Upper West Side. In the second story, she profiles a couple of protesters and gives some background to the struggle. Finally, an editorial on the subject, published jointly by El Diario and Los Angeles’  La Opinión, is also excerpted. 

Nearly 450 people gathered April 15 at noon in front of the McDonald’s located on 71st Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan to demand a raise of the minimum wage to $15 per hour. This was the second of a number of similar demonstrations held throughout the country in more than 200 cities. The first one began at 6:30 a.m. in the vicinity of Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall.

Most of the demonstrators supporting the “Fight for $15” slogan represented minorities, and many of them were Latino. They all reject the current minimum hourly rate of $8.75, which leaves many families close to the threshold of poverty and in need of public assistance.

Miguel Portillo, a Salvadoran who works in a car wash in Queens, explained that unfortunately, he has to resort to food stamps, when all he wants is “to stop living off the state and have a dignified salary to provide for my family.”

Jonathan Westin, from New York Communities for Change, said that if things don’t change, we will be condemning workers to live in poverty. He explained that citizens want the topic of a dignified salary to be included in “the politicians’ agenda.”

(…)

Many political figures have declared their solidarity with the workers. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said that the message workers are sending is important: “They deserve a raise, and they deserve to be treated fairly. In a society as wealthy as ours, there is no reason that anyone who is willing to work full-time should live in poverty.”

(…)

“We are many; they can’t ignore us,” said Mario Soto, pointing at the thousands of demonstrators who attended the last of the four protests. The demonstrators also demanded the right to form unions.

Soto, born in Los Angeles of Mexican and Guatemalan parents, has two jobs paying $8.50 an hour in New Jersey. Like many other Latinos, he added life to the protests, whose clamor was felt in over 230 cities nationwide.

“With $15 you don’t stop being poor. It’s an adjustment, a small relief,” said Jorge Quintero, a gardener earning close to $10 an hour, who stood a few steps away from Soto.

Workers with low wages took to the streets yesterday in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia to make two demands of employers: to earn a minimum wage of $15 and hour and to be allowed to form unions without fear of reprisal. These demands were set in motion over two years ago, when fast food restaurant workers started the Fight for $15 movement on the streets of Manhattan.

Today, when economic inequality appears to be more severe than ever, the movement has broadened. Laundromat and car wash workers have joined the fight, as have caretakers and even university adjunct professors.

The demonstrators are demanding a living wage that allows them to sustain themselves without public assistance, whether food stamps or Medicaid. Thousands of people attended the six marches held in New York, which converged at Columbus Circle at 5:30 p.m.

(…)

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO federation of unions, said in a press release that the “actions by tens of thousands of workers significantly advances an agenda to raise wages, so as to give every worker a chance to achieve the American Dream.”

“While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved, and every voice is heard in the workplace.”

The editorial appeared in English:

The clamor for a living wage was heard loud and clear yesterday in hundreds of cities across the nation. The minimum wage lost long ago its romantic image as a salary for teenagers in part-time summer jobs, or as an entry-level compensation for people starting their careers. Many of those jobs are now held by parents.

(…)

It is necessary to turn back the economic tendencies that have prevailed for the past decades in which production was favored above demand, breaking the previous tacit balance between workers’ compensation and that of the executives of the same company.

Workers’ wage empowerment will be a shot to the economy.

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