Guest Column by Sean Kitchen of the Raging Chicken Press (PA)
The low-wage worker campaign that has swept across the country since November 2012 is primed to make its Philadelphia debut. The Fight for 15 movement began in November 2012 when 200 fast food restaurant workers across New York City went on a one day strike for the living wage of fifteen an hour. Since then, the movement has spread to hundreds of cities across the United States, changed the national conversation on increasing the minimum wage and had a number of political victories. In Philadelphia, a coalition is forming between the Service International Employees Union and local grassroots organizations and the Socialist Alternative, who had a successful minimum wage campaign in Seattle, Washington.
The labor coalition met in Northeast Philadelphia on Friday February 21 to discuss strategy and tactics and to fight for reforms to the the Commonwealth’s minimum wage and tipped minimum wage laws and several other policies affecting low wage workers. One person in attendance was State Senator and 13th District candidate Daylin Leach. In an email exchange with the House candidate, Leach described the minimum wage fights as “among our most noble fights” and that “every worker has a right to expect, and to fight for, a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and a wage that enables people who work hard full time not to live in poverty.” Senator Leach believes that $10.10 is too low and supports a minimum wage of $12.00, pegged to inflation, because it “would lift people above the poverty level.” One of the biggest issues Leach has is with the tipped minimum wage. He stated:
The tipped minimum wage is one of the most evil policies on the books at either the state or federal level, and we must address it at any and every level we can. At the federal level, the $2.13 tipped minimum wage has not been raised in 23 years. Many workers make far less than minimum wage on average, but their employers report them at minimum wage so the poorest workers pay taxes on money they aren’t even seeing.Plus, employers are allowed to use tipped workers for non-tippable purposes (for example, cleaning out the freezer) for 20% of the work day. In other words, they get to pay their workers $2.13 for work they will never see a tip for.
On Saturday, February 15, the Philadelphia branch of Socialist Alternativeheld a meeting with speakers from New York and Boston and over 40 low wage workers from the Philadelphia area. This effort is part of a nationwide effort by Socialist Alternative. The organization had major victories in Seattle last fall with their 15 Now campaign by electing socialist candidate Kshama Sawant to city council and forcing the Seattle mayor to take action on the issue. Since being sworn in, Sawant has taken a hardline stance on “McPoverty Wages.” Justin Harrison, a union worker and Socialist Alternative member, stated “Philadelphia is one of the poorest major American cities, but our society has the resources to easily provide every worker a decent living. In Seattle, $15/hr is not a marginal issue anymore; it’s central to the city’s political debates. Today we join workers across the country to bring that fight to Philadelphia.” Their first Philadelphia actions will be held March 8th and May 1st.
In November 2012, a couple hundred fast food and low wage workers launched a movement that flies in the face of the conventional wisdom surrounding our minimum wage laws. The Fight for $15 is probably one of the most radical ideas to come out of the labor movement in decades and it has already changed the minimum wage debate. The Fight for $15 forced the president to support a $10.10 federal minimum wage, while others in Congress want a higher minimum wage, and has had victories in states and cities across the country. In an age of social media and instant gratification, the resurgence of the progressive movement since the Wisconsin Uprising and the formation and dismantling of Occupy Wall Street has scored major victories over the past three years. It came out in full force when its backs were up against the wall in Madison, it unmasked the 1% and sparked a debate on income inequality and now it has put paid sick leave on the agenda and completely changed the way we think about the minimum wage. The only remaining question is what comes next?
Photo credit Rising Tide.