CHICAGO – A highlight of the opening of the 30th National Convention of the Communist Party USA was a Peoples World panel on June 13, a public event called “Working for a Living: New Challenges.” took place. Workers who have been part of the Fight for 15 campaign to raise fast food wages made their voices heard. They discussed their experiences leading strikes and campaigns, and spoke about how important the Fight for 15 battle has become.
Naquasia LeGrande, a worker at KFC in New York, remarked, “I’m employed to be a cashier but I end up doing more than what my manager can do, and I do it for only $8 an hour. New York City is a billion dollar city, and you’re telling me that with all I do, I’m only worth $8? I was going to school and I didn’t get to finish, because of financial problems. At that time, I wasn’t even thinking about making a change – just getting out of KFC. But then I started hearing about changing the conditions of my own workplace. It occurred to me that I could make my life as a worker better right then and there. The family that struggles together is the family that stays together.”
Domino’s pizza worker Michael Leone, from Houston, Texas, added, “If you work at a fast food restaurant, you really don’t have the option to call in sick. I called in one day, maybe naively, shaking and sick and unable to drive a car and deliver pizzas. And I couldn’t be handling food in that condition.” Leone’s manager was unmoved. “They said if I can’t work, I have to find somebody to cover my shift. So I have to drive myself down there anyway – at which point I promptly head to the restroom to throw up – and then my manager gives me everyone’s numbers, and I have to go through them one by one. Eventually I found someone to cover my shift. If I hadn’t, I would have been fired.” The point, he said, is “they just see us all as some sort of expendable livestock. Well, it’s time we start managing the farm.”
There was also a former fast food worker present, who was not so lucky to be able to keep his job. Rasheen Aldridge was an employee at a Jimmy John’s in St. Louis for two and a half years – until it was decided he could be replaced. “I worked hard there for nothing. I came into work day in and day out for little to no pay, and got treated like crap. Then I started organizing for a $15 an hour wage – as opposed to $7.35. Well, my manager approached me one day and declared that I was fired for being in four minutes late.” In reality, Aldridge was let go due to his union activity. “It’s not just about the money,” he said. “We don’t only need the money. We need the union for protection, because these jobs are the new-day slavery.”
Leone agreed. “We have to keep fighting to unionize,” he noted, “because what good is winning the Fight for 15 if we don’t have a union? They could take those $15 wages away the next day.”
“Workers in Denmark are making $21 an hour and they also have a union,” said LeGrande. “So these workers on the other side of the world are saying, ‘What’s going on in the U.S.?’ They’re standing with us, but they can’t believe that we’re only making $8 an hour over here.”
Aldridge agreed with the absurdity of the situation, adding, “We’re supposed to be the ‘super country.’ We’re America. So how are countries like Denmark, Australia, and Germany paying their workers more money than us? People in countries that, in some instances, don’t even have the same resources or economies as us, still have major worker rights and freedoms that we don’t. There’s something wrong here.”
Photo: Immediate left: LeGrande and Leone. Second from right: Aldridge. PW