At the McDonald’s restaurant in the National Air and Space Museum in D.C., Luis Chiliquinga, a soft-spoken middle-aged gentleman, works less than 20 hours a week schedule for the minimum wage, and he has for three years. Not only does Luis work, but elsewhere, so does his wife. And his adult daughter. And his two sons. And his work hours are unpredictable. The result? In the high-cost high-priced city that is the Nation’s Capital, they all live together in one apartment in the city’s growing Latino community. And their five low-paying jobs still aren’t enough to pay all of their bills.
So the effort to gain a decent standard of living and support his family brought Chiliquinga out, along with almost 200 other people, to demand on Sept. 20 that the D.C. City Council pass legislation to help the city’s low-wage workers.
One law they sought is a secure-scheduling ordinance, demanding firms give workers – especially in fast-food restaurants and similar low-paying service firms – at least two weeks’ advance notice of their schedules, and to make those schedules predictable. The other was a paid family and medical leave ordinance covering 16 weeks off work. It would top the nation. Both D.C. ordinances, along with a secure-scheduling ordinance that Seattle’s city council unanimously approved the day before, are part of a nationwide campaign by low-wage exploited workers, many of them women and minority-group members. They demand decent pay – a $15 hourly minimum wage-decent hours, decent working conditions and the right to unionize without employer repression. Chiliquinga mentioned the right to unionize in his talk. “It’s very difficult to support my family on less than 20 hours a week of work,”
Chiliquinga told Press Associates Union News Service after being one of five speakers – including members of the D.C. Teachers Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers to address the group during the morning rush hour. They drew hordes of supportive honks.
“All my life, I make only minimum wage-minimum wage-minimum wage. It’s very important to establish a living wage, to pay the bills, the rent, the car and the phone. My wife is old. And I am old. And it’s my responsibility to see to my family, not to my job,” Chiliquinga said. The United Food and Commercial Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Service Employees and the Teachers joined the demonstration in front of D.C.’s city hall. But business opposition killed their bill. While D.C. has already raised its minimum wage, and while it will continue to rise, the Democratic-dominated council heeded big-box store threats to junk planned openings in Washington. Solons defeated the scheduling bill, 9-4. What is more, lawmakers took no action on paid family leave. Under pressure from businesses, lawmakers are reworking it, to cut the hours of paid leave. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) is cool to both.
The story was quite different in Seattle. There, a year-long campaign by union-backed Working Washington led to a 9-0 City Council triumph for the secure-scheduling ordinance, which Mayor Ed Murray plans to sign. Seattle will join San Francisco in enacting that law. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to introduce it there, covering restaurants. “Seattle made labor history once again by passing secure-scheduling – – the first new labor standard to address weekly work schedules since overtime pay became law in the 1930s. This landmark victory in Seattle is only the beginning in the fight for balanced and flexible schedules in Washington State and across the country,” Working Washington said. In November, Washington state voters will consider Initiative 1433, to raise the state’s minimum wage to $13.50 an hour and enact paid sick leave, the union-backed group added. “Today is the just beginning for secure scheduling,” Working Washington Executive Director Sejal Parikh stated. “Seattle workers made this happen, but the crisis of unpredictable and unstable work schedules doesn’t end at the city limits. In just the last few days we’ve seen the mayor of New York City announce plans to take on secure scheduling, and they’re surely only the first to follow. We look forward to seeing who’s next as a new wave sweeps across the nation in the footsteps of the fight for $15.”
The D.C. defeat disappointed Elizabeth Falcon, executive director of D.C. Jobs With Justice, which organized the Sept. 20 rally. The crowd, who streamed into the council chambers for the work session there just after the demonstration outside, vowed to keep pressing the pro-worker issues, through the November election and beyond. “Workers in the District deserve access to full time hours and schedules in advance,” Falcon stated. “The council let down thousands of our neighbors who work in retail and food service and all of their families. By tabling this legislation, they gave into big business lobbyists instead of looking out for hard-working residents in our lowest-paying industries. “We’ve heard the narrative that it is too much at once to act on both Paid Family Leave and the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act, when these are in fact the basics of what people need to sustain their families.
“Even with more D.C. residents living in poverty than before the recession and with many residents who want to work full-time only finding part-time work, the D.C. Council decided to ignore the needs of hourly retail and restaurant workers at the heart of our local economy,” she added.
Councilmember Elissa Silverman, a former Newspaper Guild member, vowed to bring back the secure-scheduling measure. At a closed-door council members’ breakfast before the open council work session, she pleaded with colleagues not to kill it. The majority refused. “I remain committed to working on my colleagues’ concerns, so I will start to convene working groups on this bill next week, which will include business and labor advocates,” she tweeted. “I will also invite my colleagues to join the discussion.”
Photo: In Washington state, Teamsters Local 117, speaking out for secure scheduling.