Low-wage Fight for 15 workers forced to walk out Jan. 15
A fast food worker takes part in a Fight for 15 demonstration in Georgia. | David Goldman/AP

“Fight for 15 and a union” members were forced to call a nationwide walk out again for tomorrow, Jan. 15.

Their top demand: That the new Congress pass a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour within the first 100 days of the Democratic Biden administration. Biden backs such a hike, which would be the first increase in the minimum wage since 2009.

“On January 15, workers across the country are going on strike to demand our bosses give us higher pay, COVID [coronavirus] protections, and unions for all,” their website declares.

“For years, politicians turned a blind eye while corporations exploited workers. But in November, millions of us turned out to vote those politicians out.

“Now it’s time to take what we’re owed. Sign on to demand Congress pass $15/hour for ALL within the first 100 days of the Biden administration.” Their link, http://bit.ly/3i7X3LB, is to an online petition of support for the cause.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and congressional Republicans have blocked increases since 2009, forcing more than 20 states and major cities—including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles—to raise their minimums since then.

Another reason for a hike in the federal minimum: Red states, notably Missouri and Alabama, have overridden local efforts, in St. Louis, Kansas City and Birmingham, respectively, to raise wages.

Those states’ GOP-dominated—or gerrymandered—legislatures and Republican governors stripped local governments of any right to enact pro-worker laws, with wage hikes the prime target.

“The solution to low pay is clear,” says Fight for 15, which has strong union support, led by the Service Employees.By raising the minimum wage to $15, we can benefit nearly 40 million Americans—predominantly women and workers of color—while reducing the racial wealth gap and giving millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line every day a permanent raise.”

That impact figure is low, since the movement took it from a two-year-old Economic Policy Institute report, far before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Still, that study shows 60% of the 39.7 million workers who would benefit from the raise were full-timers and 55% were women. Combined, all those workers cared for almost 15 million kids. Some 5.4 million workers were single parents, EPI reported.

“As the pandemic makes economic uncertainty more dire across the country, and our essential healthcare, food-service, and retail workers continue to struggle, we must take bold action NOW.” (Fight for 15’s emphasis).

The workers’ struggle also shows up in the jobless statistics, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to tank the economy with it. The latest federal weekly jobless claims report shows another 1.435 million workers sought state or federal unemployment benefits in the first full week of January. That’s a leap of more than 400,000 in one week, from 1.009 million new claimants in the week ending Jan. 2. And the last monthly joblessness report for 2020, covering December and year-end data, showed the lowest-paying industry—bars and restaurants—shed the most workers that month, 498,000.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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