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The #FightFor15 Campaign & the National Need for Livable Wages

First Posted: Nov 18, 2015 12:32 PM EST
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Thousands upon thousands of underpaid home care, child care, airport and fast-food employees took to the street in 270 cities across the nation on Nov. 10 to bring attention to an important cause, the #FightFor15 campaign.

The day of action demonstrated that U.S. workers are in need of a livable wage. 

The Fight for $15 isn't a quiet movement, and isn't likely to go silently into the night. Started by NYC fast-food workers in 2012, overworked and undercompensated professional home care givers, child care workers, auto parts workers, fast-food workers, farmworkers, janitorial staff and retail workers have since raised concerns about wealth distribution, unlivable wages, a dearth of benefits, and poverty.

Women and communities of color are overrepresented in jobs that pay less than $15 an hour, according to the National Employment Law Project. While women make up less than half (48.3 percent) of the U.S. workforce, more than half (54.7 percent) of workers earning wages below $15 are women. African Americans constitute 12 percent of the workforce, but account for 15 percent of those earning less than $15 an hour. Likewise, U.S. Latinos represent 16.5 percent of the workforce, but 23 percent of Latinos workers earn less than $15 hourly rate. About 46 percent of American workers earn less than $15. A recent poll showed 69 percent of unregistered voters would register to vote if there was a candidate on the ballot who supported higher pay and union rights.

Employees from IKEA, McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, Taco Bell and Walmart were among the workers to join the national movement for a $15 minimum wage. Even New York City and Los Angeles workers, who've already won the battle to earn $15, walked off the job in solidarity with other fast-food workers across the nation. Likewise, Caring Across Generation, a national community of caregivers, people with disabilities and aging individuals, took part of the national day of action. Easily some the most undervalued and unpaid workers, home care givers deserve dignified pay, especially at a time when the demand for home care is exploding.

"As our nation ages, professional caregivers will play an increasingly vital role in many families' care teams," said Sarita Gupta, co­-director of Caring Across Generations, in a press release. "Our policies and practices need to keep up with this emerging reality, allowing people to age in their homes and communities without losing all of their assets ­ and not at the expense of workers. It's time to bring caregiving into the 21st century, where care is fundamentally valued, once and for all."

The Fight for $15 day of action was orchestrated a year before Election Day. The bounty of workers walked off the job and chanted "My check is flat, I need more zeroes in that" and "Rain, sleet, hail or snow, less than $15's got to go" throughout the day. Workers joined city hall protests in 500 cities to raise their collective voices, demonstrate their rights, demand change and share their stories. The five-point Fight for $15 Voter Agenda calls for affordable child care, racial justice, immigration reform, quality long-term care and union rights. Nearly 64 million American workers will earn be a part of the sub-$15-wage workforce.

Adriana Alvarez, Chicagoland McDonald's employee, a leader in the Fight for $15 movement and a mother, spoke to Latin Post and explained what a livable wage would mean for her hand her family. Earning just $10.50 an hour after working at McDonald's for four years, earning $15 an hour would mean the 23-year-old would be able to afford more necessities. Also, she would be able to do normal things like go to the movies or take her son places.

For Alvarez, strikes and protests seemed like the only option to achieve a pay increase after years of being rebuffed by management when politely requesting raises. Her recent efforts, including writing an op-ed for the Chicago Sun Times, have contributed to changes in her store and corporate stores. However, there's still great deal of work to be done.

"They weren't just going to hand it to us, they were going to make us work for it --which we have been doing," said Alvarez. "We needed to show them that we deserved a livable wage. During the day of action, a lot more people joined us. We had airport workers, adjunct professors, health care workers, home care workers, day care workers... and so it's not just the fast food workers anymore, it's everybody because we all want a livable wage."

The Fight for $15 has found a great deal of support. New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio joined workers on the morning of the action to praise workers for their efforts. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo stated, "I believe that if you work hard and work full time, you should not be condemned to live in poverty." Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto announced he would sign an executive order to raise pay for city-contracted workers and city workers. Labor leader and immigrant-rights activist Dolores Huerta protested alongside striking workers. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley  tweeted in support of strikers. In October at the first-ever Summit on Worker Voice, President Obama praised the Fight for $15 campaign.

"The Fight for $15 movement is one of the most powerful examples of collective action," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a press release. "Having a voice on the job is a basic right. Using that voice and demanding it be heard is both courageous and inspiring. These workers deserve $15 an hour and a union. Whether advocating for social justice or raising wages, working people are beginning to fully realize the power of standing together. These are the movements that will make our workplaces fairer and our communities better."

While politicians in some cities have responded to worker's demands by increasing their pay to $15, others have not. For example, Kansas' state legislature blocked an attempt to increase wages to $13. Amalgamated Bank, Facebook, Aetna and Nationwide Insurance raised pay to $15+ an hour this year, while many fast-food companies, like McDonald's continue to resist granting legitimate wages.

© 2015 Latin Post. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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