Labor’s Rebound With Low Wage Workers?

When you watch them, what image strikes you?

It’s the 1930s all over again. It’s a wall of white, black, Latino and immigrant faces.

It’s a cry for decency from the bottom of the pay scale, which today is growing bigger.

But is it?

Is this the cradle that once rocked the CIO and American labor all over again?

Are the young organizers, worker centers, community groups, and their allies creating a new labor wave among America’s low wage workers?

Some think so.

Here’s an article from the (UK) Guardian which makes this point.

Because of too many young people interested looking for work, these millennials reason that the labor movement is the only way to address large-scale poverty and income inequality – starting with their own. 

The “Fight for 15″ movement is the most visible of these. Designed by the SEIU to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, the effort has been driven by young activists. Last fall, the movement claimed its first legislative victory with residents in SeaTac, Seattle’s airport carrying suburb, voting to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“There’s more enthusiasm than there has been probably in our lifetime for this,” says Ady Barkan, a 30-year-old Yale Law graduate and staff attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy in New York, indicating that the “Fight for 15” movement is picking up where Occupy Wall Street left off.  He calls it “part of a similar cultural moment”.  

It doesn’t hurt the movement that the difference in pay between unionized and non-union jobs is pronounced. The median weekly earnings of union members in 2012 was $943, compared to $742 for those not in a union, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its recently released annual survey of labor.

“The dismal prospects for young workers are underscoring the fact that you can’t rebuild an economy on low-wage jobs and that inequality has reached a point where it really is an existential crisis for America,” says Annette Bernhardt, UC Berkeley’s visiting sociology professor, whose work has focused on the low-wage economy and inequality. 

Yes, there is a drumbeat of activity, and a sense that the shouting and marching may make a difference.

Consider this release from  a workers’  press conference today (Feb 3):

CHICAGO–Snarf’s workers, supported by fellow members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago and community supporters, convened at 10:00 A.M. today at Snarf’s at Two Prudential Plaza to declare victory in their fight for reinstatement and justice. Following a show of strength and solidarity by the workers, and display of vast public support and outrage, the agreement reinstates all the workers with one month’s pay. 

“It’s good that we fought back,” said Kevin Brown, a Snarf’s employee. “I’m happy to get back pay and be offered reinstatement. We stood together and as a result we were able to resolve this in a good manner. It’s important because we can’t let employers get away with mistreating employees. When we take a stand together, we prove that we can hold employers accountable.”

Snarf’s is a Colorado-based sandwich shop chain that has expanded into Chicago and other cities.  It plans to have 50 stores nationwide by 2018. On December 22, Snarf’s terminated all of their employees at their 600 West Chicago location. The workers were all fired via email, without notice, three days before Christmas.

On December 23, 2013 and January 8, 2014, Snarf’s workers held actions at Snarf’s Chicago locations to protest their unfair termination and to demand reinstatement and furlough payment. St. Louis fast food workers with the “Show Me $15” campaign also held a solidarity action at a local Snarf’s. Local and national outlets like Time and the Huffington Post covered the story. Hundreds of customers and supporters immediately called the Snarf’s corporate office and took to social media to denounce this firing. In just a couple of days hundreds of concerned citizens across the nation signed the workers’ MoveOn petitionIn response, Jim Seidel, the CEO and owner of Snarf’s posted an apology on Facebook for the handling of the closure and reached a just agreement with the workers.

“During the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the people who chose to walk instead of ride the bus said: My feet are tired but my soul is rested. And I believe that’s the case for these Snarf’s workers,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, during the press conference.  “Their feet are tired—and cold—and yet their souls are rested because they know that they stood up and did the right thing and fought for justice. These are the future leaders of our city, these are the leaders that are going to help other workers get a living wage, to get $15 an hour, and I commend them for their courage and perseverance and also for their tenacity. I congratulate them and I’m thrilled for them as are dozens of religious leaders across the city.”

But let’s go back to our question.

Is this the rebound that labor has been praying for? 

What, if anything does this have to do with organized labor? What will it mean for these workers?

We’ll be talking and asking about this at our forum on low wage workers on Tuesday, Feb. 11. A number of groups behind diverse drives on behalf of low wage workers along with those backing hikes in the city and state’s minimum wages will be on hand.

So, too there will be community groups and individuals backing these efforts, making this not only an event for the news media, but a public conversation about one of the most important issues today in Chicago.

We meet from 6 to 8 pm at 618 S. Michigan, Stage Two, Columbia College, Chicago.

workers-unionsPlease join us.

Questions. Advice. Thoughts?

Talk to me. Digame., office 312-369-6400



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