NEW YORK — The fast-food movement to increase the minimum wage continues to raise the national consciousness by organizing low-wage workers to rally and protest. An over 1,000 person strong rally organized by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), 32 BJ, and Hotel Trades Council gathered in Union Square recently made that point loudly by demanding “fair play” and “fair pay.”
I met up with one protester by the name of Alberto at the demonstration. He was holding one of the many posters distributed by the SEIU: “Fast Food Workers For $15 and Union Rights,” “When We Fight, We Win (#Fight For 15). Alberto, with the help of a translator, talked to me about his life and what brought him to this very spirited and vital rally.
A senior, but not a citizen, he was attending his first protest since he came to the United States six years ago from Mexico City. Like many other poor immigrants who arrive here his trip was expensive and dangerous.
He paid a “coyote” $2,700 to escort him through desert and mountains avoiding poisonous snakes, wild animals and ever-present police or border guards. He made three attempts – including one during which he was arrested and put into a detention center.
His perseverance paid off and he managed to overcome the “frontier” that separates him and many others from what they perceive as a better way of life and arrived in New York City.
I asked him if he thought the ordeal was worth it. He replied that he and his family could not survive in Mexico City and now he (his family remained in Mexico) finds it equally difficult to survive in New York City.
He is living in a studio apartment uptown with six other people. The rent is $1100. He sends most of what he makes home to Mexico and has no savings.
Born into a family of campesinos (farmers), he completed a sixth grade education and eventually worked as a jornalero or day laborer. Now, he makes $6.40 an hour working for Domino’s, delivering pizzas by bicycle. He says he needs more hours but for whatever reason the store cannot give them to him.
He has not seen his family since he arrived here – he has a wife and two adult children. If he were to return to Mexico he would have to go through the same perilous journey to return to the U.S. He has learned some English. Alberto said he finds an application on his cell phone named “Duo Lingo” very helpful. He has one day off a week which he spends walking and learning about the city.
When asked if he thought it was worthwhile protesting at rallies and marches he answered that it was really important for him and for all workers and he appreciated Governor Cuomo’s support for a higher minimum wage.
Still, he strives for more hours. I asked him what he would say to the people assembled at the rally if he got an opportunity to speak in front of a microphone.
He said, “Que no bajen la guardia, Siempre para adelante y nunca para atras.” or in English, “Never let your guard down, always go forward, never backward.”
Photo: Columbia University Fight for 15 Facebook. Demand NY State Senate pass $15 Minimum Wage!–Student and Youth Contingent