By Doug Porter
I spent most of yesterday traveling around San Diego with roughly three dozen fast food workers. The local version of the nationwide Fight for 15 movement made a statement at ten locations around town, taking to the streets both in North Park and downtown.
The mostly brown and black workers on the bus were those who’d committed to taking a day off from work (there were others that came and went) to let the world know they wanted a better life. Two were older, having spent more than two decades in the business. Some had families to support. Some brought their kids along. Others were trying to go to community college on a fast food paycheck. All of them believed they could make a difference, even if they were just paying it forward.
Many of these strikers shared their personal stories with TV and radio station reporters along the way. Some spoke up at the rally capping off the day. But the real story was the amazing level of grit and determination. There was a strong consciousness of this day being about larger issues motivating them as much if not more than their own personal dilemmas.
They were grateful for the logistical support–which include a rented bus to travel to various location–provided by organized labor and religious supporters, but not afraid to take the lead. The early morning agenda called for protests at McDonald’s and Sonic; the strikers kept right on marching through three more fast food locations near-by.
7am: Rise and Shine
We started out at the McDonald’s location at Texas and El Cajon in North Park. Four TV trucks lined up, complete with reporters looking to do live remotes during the morning news. They had to make-do with a few early arrivals; the bulk of the marchers were meeting at a nearby park, getting their game faces on and rehearsing slogans.
What happened at McDonald’s was repeated at Wendy’s, Sonic, Jack-in-the-Box and Carl’s Jr. The group rallied outside the front of the building, chanting slogans. They marched through the drive-thru lane. Some folks went inside with bullhorns. It was noisy and mostly polite at the same time. The company, not the customers or the store managers, were the targets.
Back at the bus, people shared their experiences, via phone calls and social media. Our chaperons made sure everybody stayed hydrated and talked about protests going on in other cities.
Downtown on B Street
My fear about their energy being tapped out (marching on five restaurants before 10am is work!) proved to be untrue as we arrived downtown to join an protest led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The red shirts of the Fight for 15 crew met up with the purple shirts of those organizing janitors and security guards in front of the Copley Symphony Hall.
Flanked by motorcycle police and accompanied by a scattering of homeland security (FBI?) guys in suits, the group marched down B Street to the community concourse plaza.
I had to laugh as one pasty-faced dude taking pictures with a cell phone yelled “get a job” as we marched by. Many of these folks have two and even three jobs trying to make ends meet.
The first rally of the day–meaning speeches over a PA system–took place at the site of the original Occupy protest in San Diego in the shadow of City Hall.
Then it was time to march again, this time to the Front Street office building housing many state government offices. Members of government employee unions joined the crowd for few short speeches, some more chanting of slogans and two tables laden with pizza.
A handful of counter-demonstrators appeared at the downtown stops, mostly red-neck types looking fearful that the crowd might turn on them. Or maybe they were hoping to be martyrs. In any case they disappeared quickly.
In the Heat of the Day
After lunch it was time to head up to City Heights, where a community rally was supposed to happen in support of the fast food workers. There wasn’t much of a turnout; a handful of old-time radicals, a few folks with United Against Police Terror, and some homeless people from the park lured by the prospect of a bus ride to San Diego State where “free tacos” were supposed to appear.
The crew from the bus made the best of it, moving to a street corner in front of the public library for a few speeches and more chanted slogans.
Then it was time to move on to the really big events of the day. At 3:30pm home care workers met up at Campanile Mall at SDSU.
Groups supportive of the Fight for 15 cause called for a big rally at the Scripps Cottage Lawn at San Diego State University. Well over a thousand people committed to showing up via Facebook. The question was, would they actually show up?
…And at 4:30 pm the answer was obviously yes. There were tents. There were drummers, There were speakers, not just from fast food, but with janitors, health care workers, and college adjunct staff among others. There were orange shirts (laborers union) green shirts (domestic workers) and more. There were suits and ties. There were a lot of people.
United Domestic Workers union Executive Director Doug Moore took to the stage and talked like a radical: “We need to make revolutionary changes and it starts with mass actions like this. Let’s stand together & win together!”
At SDSU faculty and students marched to the Aztec shops to demand better wages for students who currently earn the minimum wage on campus. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless students on campus.
Community members and workers followed up by heading over to a near-by McDonald’s finishing their day by letting the store manager know “all workers deserve a living wage and access to a union.”
The Faith Connection
Pastor Bowser of Charity Apostolic Church in South East San Diego spoke to the crowd at the evening demonstration at San Diego State University. He drew the connections between low wages and public health.
“As I’ve seen in my congregation, low wages create a psychological and emotional strain,” Pastor Bowser said. “You should not have to work two and three jobs out of survival to keep food on the table. Better pay on a good union job in my community would mean my congregation could afford better housing, reliable transportation, and could better provide for their children. Better wages promote mental well being, reduced stress and psychological strain.”
The real challenge for the fast food employees from McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, Taco Bell, and Sonic who protested yesterday will be today, when they attempt to report back to work.
The Interfaith Community for Worker Justice of San Diego County is providing “walk back” coverage, meaning clergy and laypeople will accompany them as they return to their jobs. The hope is that the witnessing and prayers from the group will discourage employers from retaliating.
Local Coverage of Fight for 15
Virtually all the coverage featured McDonald’s press release about how they actually pay people. The company didn’t say anything about how they expected people to live on that pay.
Local TV stations aired interviews with a few fast food employees.
“For all the hard work that we do, we should be able to pay our bills.” said Carmen Villa, 22, a Burger King employee. “I’m very thankful that everyone is coming together and willing to stand with homecare workers, janitors, security officers and faculty. It is expensive out there, we all need a living wage.”
From NBC San Diego:
Locally, rallies and worker walk-outs were held at a McDonald’s on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park, outside Symphony Towers in downtown San Diego and at the Scripps Cottage Lawn at San Diego State University.
In front of the McDonald’s workers chanted: “Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make our wages Supersize.”
The movement includes workers participating in protests across more than 200 U.S. cities. They’re employed as fast-food workers, adjunct professors, home care workers, child care workers and janitorial workers, among others.
Fast-food restaurant employees, security guards and other workers conducted strikes and held rallies Wednesday in San Diego in their effort to gain a $15-an-hour wage.
Organizers with Service Employees International Union-United Service Workers West said adjunct professors, home care workers, Walmart employees and others joined in the job actions.
Tax day was chosen because many of the workers make so little money that they rely on government assistance to get by, according to the SEIU-USWW. Strikes and rallies were set to take place in 200 U.S. cities.
National Coverage: A Movement Builds
The best write-up I saw around the internet this morning was at the Guardian:
Workers in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and more than 200 cities across the US walked out on their jobs or joined marches and protests on Wednesday during what organisers claimed was the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.
Some 60,000 workers took part in the Fight for $15 demonstrations, according to the organisers. The protests are calling for a minimum wage of $15 an hour in the US, more than twice the current federal minimum of $7.25…
…Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said the protest marked a significant change in labour disputes. “What is really significant about the Fight for $15 movement is – most labor disputes, look inside, they’re about a group of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement,” said Chaison. “In the Fight for $15, unions are helping to organize on a community basis, a group of workers who are on the fringe of the economy. It’s not about union members protecting themselves. It’s about moving other people up. This is the whole civil rights movement all over again.”
The BerkeleySide.com site talked about the importance of bringing divergent groups together:
Speakers from Restaurant Opportunity Centers United, the California Faculty Association, Black Lives Matter, and union representatives from UC Berkeley spoke to the crowds gathered at Sproul Plaza at 3 p.m.
Devonte Jackson, from Black Lives Matter, insisted that activists from his movement and the Fight for 15 movement should be united. “We’re here to connect the dots” between all forms of state sanctioned violence, he said. “Income inequality is also state sanctioned violence.”
Maricruz Manzanarez, of the UC system’s AFSCME Local 3299, which represents workers at 10 University of California campuses and five medical centers, also spoke about bringing together different movements. To the fast food workers in the crowd, she said, “You are not alone. We are all willing to help fight for what is right.”
At Huffington Post there was an article about the links building between civil rights and labor groups:
#BlackLivesMatters is a hashtag that has taken the Internet by storm and symbolizesa movement around the validation and protection of black lives around the globe. However, while the campaign includes the fight against many issues plaguing the African American community, one particular civil rights focus took the main stage on Wednesday: #BlackWorkMatters. In a push for racial justice, protesters took to the streets in cities across the country — from New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento and New Orleans — to demand a $15 per hour minimum wage and the creation of a union for fast food workers.
Black Youth 100, a non-profit organization focused on racial, social and economic freedom, released a video Monday explaining The Black Work Matters campaign — also known as the Fight For $15 — which calls attention to the disproportionate number of young black people who work in low wage jobs and the experiences they have in these positions.
It’s a fight for the dignity of workers,” says Charlene A. Carruthers in the video, the National Director BYP100. “It’s a fight for workers to be able to collectively bargain. It’s a fight for workers to actually be in safe environments where their issues and their grievances can be heard.”
The Impact of These Protests
Clearly the movement started by a handful of fast food workers in New York a few years back has grown into something much bigger. What seemed two years ago like a far-fetched goal—$15 an hour—is now not so crazy.
In February, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio called for an increase in New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by 2019. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union asked the Board of Education to pay $15 an hour to all workers in schools and in December, Chicago lawmakers voted to raise the minimum wage to $13.
In Washington, workers won $15 in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers,” and in SeaTac, where local low-wage airport workers played a leading role in winning a historic wage increase. Last November, San Francisco became the third city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage.
Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private sector unions in the entire country.
In June of 2016, San Diegans will be voting on the Earned Sick Leave Minimum Wage Ordinance, providing a moderate wage increase and provide access to five earned sick days to all individuals who currently work within the city limits.
The “moderate increases” talked about last year now seem small compared to what workers nationwide are demanding.
(h/t to Crystal at SEIU for the quotes and hospitality)
On This Day: 1916 -Employers locked out 25,000 New York City garment workers in a dispute over hiring practices. The Int’l Ladies’ Garment Workers Union called a general strike; after 14 weeks, 60,000 strikers won union recognition and the contractual right to strike. 1922 – Annie Oakley shot 100 clay targets in a row, to set a women’s record. 1966 – Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman” was released. He passed away just a few days ago at age 74.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.