Day of action demands ‘$15 and a union’ from McDonald’s
32 BJ SEIU Connecticut district leader Alberto Bernardez leads workers and supporters in a chant at the Branford Connecticut service plaza. | Art Perlo / People's World

BRANFORD, Conn.—The chant “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now” reverberated through the McDonald’s restaurant at the Branford I-95 rest stop Wednesday morning as workers, union allies, and community groups marched inside the restaurant as part of a national day of action demanding $15 and a union.

Protests were held across the country prior to the corporations’ annual shareholders meeting, including strikes by workers at over 15 McDonald’s stores in cities from Oakland to Orlando.  Support came from Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and many others.

Led by 32 BJ SEIU, the Branford rally was held in support of workers who have been organizing at rest stops all along the I-95 Connecticut corridor for a year and a half. Last year, $900,000 in back wages and pay was won from the franchise in Darien as part of a settlement with the state Department of Labor, which investigated the store for violations of the Standard Wage Law.

32 BJ SEIU members and supporters demanded “$15 and a Union” at the
Branford Service Plaza. | Art Perlo / People’s World

So the chant “I Believe That We Will Win,” led by 32 BJ SEIU Vice President Rochelle Palache hit home as she shouted to McDonald’s, “You are on notice. We are not backing down!”

An array of groups turned out, including the Recovery for All Coalition, Unite Here Local 34, Unidad Latina en Accion, New Haven Peoples Center, members of the New Haven Board of Alders, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, and Bishop John Selders.

Participants at the bi-lingual rally were moved by the comments of workers who expressed thanks for all the support. Many speakers reflected on how McDonald’s profits have more than recovered during the pandemic while essential workers, many immigrants from Latin America, were left to struggle to get PPE and make ends meet on minimum wages and no relief.

Taking off on a Unite Here slogan, Mayor Elicker exclaimed, “One job should be enough to live on.”

“Workers are in the streets all over Latin America and the world,” emphasized John Jairo Lugo, representing the immigrant rights organization Unidad Latina en Accion. “It’s not just here. We are not alone.”

Support for a bill in the State Legislature that would require restaurant and other owners to recall workers according to seniority when re-opening after the pandemic was stressed by New Haven’s Ward 8 Alder Ellen Cupo, also a member of Unite Here Local 34.

“When we fight together, we win together,” exclaimed 32 BJ SEIU Connecticut director Alberto Bernardez, who emceed the rally.

Over the last 18 months, workers at McDonald’s and other stores in the Connecticut interstate service plazas have been organizing for the right to unionize in order to secure better pay, benefits, and treatment.

Managerial reprisals against workers have led to government investigations of unfair labor practices, including in a Darien service plaza store owned by George Michell and a Milford store run by Roger Facey’s company, Goldenhawk, LLC. Facey’s company also owns the store in Branford.

The local practices of McDonald’s franchises are in keeping with the company’s anti-worker actions nationwide. Despite the announcement of $15-an-hour wages at McDonald’s corporate stores, only about 5% of McDonald’s workers will benefit from the raise.

And despite promising to stop lobbying against raising the minimum wage, McDonald’s is a member of two groups—the National Restaurant Association and the International Franchise Association—who continue to lobby against $15.

“The story here and across the nation proves it,” said Palache. “The only way to fully protect workers from abuse is to allow them to peacefully form a union,” she declared, giving credit to the workers at McDonald’s and other fast food outlets for the victory at the State Legislature in 2019 when the state minimum wage was raised to $15.

John Jairo Lugo, from Unidad Latina en Accion, linked the workers’
struggles in Connecticut with popular movements throughout Latin America. | Art Perlo / People’s World

“Here and across the country, workers now deserve the right to form a union without retribution or intimidation from management. $15 and a union go together like a burger and fries,” concluded Palache.

Local demands of McDonald’s and other Connecticut Service Plaza workers include the right to join a union without interference from management; an end to managerial mistreatment of union supporters, including cutting workers’ hours or refusing to recall them; PPE for all workers, with clear disinfection and notification procedures in case of COVID-19 outbreaks, and clearly outlined benefits that allow workers to use sick days and personal time.

Last month, a contingent of workers delivered a petition signed by the vast majority of workers on all shifts at Facey’s McDonald’s in the Milford Northbound and Branford service plazas. Facey owns four McDonald’s on I-95, which has ten plazas in Connecticut. The petition asked Facey to acknowledge the risk these essential workers face daily in the pandemic, and to pay them back wages to cover the years that Facey’s McDonald’s failed to pay the Standard Wage, a rate set by the Connecticut Department of Labor.

Now, workers report that Facey has begun to pay the Standard Wage rate, becoming the second major service plaza concession to meet its obligation. Unlike George Mitchell, however, Roger Facey’s Golden Hawk has so far failed to offer workers the back pay they also deserve.

“$15 and a union!” was the cry at Wednesday’s Branford rally.


CONTRIBUTOR

Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.    

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