On Eve of Tax Day, Underpaid Workers to Wage Biggest-Ever Global Strikes, Protests as Fight for $15 Turns up Heat
From AFGE in 2015
Protests Planned in Record 300 U.S. Cities, 40 Countries, on Six Continents
Fast-Food, Home Care, Child Care, Higher Ed, Manufacturing Workers to Protest Against Low Pay, Tax Avoidance by Companies
Workers Across the Service Economy Zero in on McDonald’s Role in Undercutting Pay for Everyone
Momentum Builds off $15 wins in CA, PA, Showing Power of Workers Organizing
WORLDWIDE – Days after millions of workers in California and thousands in Pennsylvania won historic pay increases to $15/hr and amidst ongoing negotiations for $15/hr for millions more in New York, the unstoppable momentum for $15 and union rights continued to build as underpaid workers across the globe said they would wage the biggest-ever day of strikes and protests on April 14.
Fast-food workers will go on strike in a record 300 cities and tens of thousands of underpaid workers—including home care, child care and higher education workers—will lead hundreds of protests from Manchester, NH to Memphis, Tenn. to Marina Del Rey, Calif. Around the world, workers will join in, with protests expected in more than 40 countries on six continents.
Who’s the Real Problem?
American families are being forced to scrape by because big corporations are ripping off workers, ripping off taxpayers, and ripping off communities. To get richer and richer, big corporations manipulate the rules to avoid paying fair wages and their fair share of taxes, forcing working people and taxpayers to foot the bill. As a result, workers and communities are being starved of the money needed to build a bright future, and left with impossible choices over how to care for their children and elderly parents and how to meet their basic expenses.
The workers’ protests, timed to hit just before Tax Day, will zero in on McDonald’s, highlighting how the world’s second-largest employer and the industry leader in the fast food and service economies is driving a race to the bottom that is undercutting wages across the economy and resulting in nearly 64 million workers being paid less than $15. The workers will also highlight how McDonald’s tax avoidance around the globe hurts governments, workers, taxpayers and consumers.
“McJobs cost us all,” said Brenda Lozada, a home care worker from Aurora, Colo. who is paid just $11/hr after 12 years on the job. “McDonald’s is holding everyone back, not just fast-food workers. The company influences pay, how people are treated at work and how people run businesses, both large and small. The Fight for $15 isn’t just about fast-food workers getting higher pay. It’s about workers in every industry, all over the world being held back because of McDonald’s desire to make bigger profits.”
Fast-food, home care, child care, university, airport, retail, building service and other workers will demand McDonald’s change its business model and use its massive economic power to lift up working families across the globe instead of dragging them down.
“There are undocumented immigrant mothers in my city who work hard and pay taxes, but McDonald’s, America’s second-largest employer, does not pay its fair share,” said Rolanda McMillan, who has worked at McDonald’s in Richmond, Va. for four years. “McDonald’s cheats its workers, pays the bare minimum and dodges taxes despite making billions in profits and paying out millions to top executives. Meanwhile, workers can’t afford child care for our kids and grandkids. That’s just wrong.”
The announcement comes as workers fighting for $15 and union rights prepare to go on strikeWednesday night and Thursday at eight airports across the country and as fast-food workers in Chicago calling for $15 and union rights prepare to walk off their jobs Friday. The Chicago workers will join with striking teachers to highlight how low pay forces fast-food workers’ to rely on food stamps and other public assistance programs—money that could be spent on schools. Members of the California Faculty Association who are demanding a 5% raise are also expected to be on strike April 14—on all 23 campuses of the state university system— in what would be the largest higher education strike in U.S. history.
“Fast-food workers may have started this movement, but now the Fight for $15 is for everyone because it’s about a living wage for all,” said Michael O’Bryan, an adjunct at Washington University in St. Louis. “Our momentum is unstoppable. Our movement proves that when workers in all industries come together and speak out, we produce real change.”
The Choices We Face
Because of the wage and tax schemes of greedy corporations like McDonald’s, workers, consumers and taxpayers face a series of impossible choices. American workers aren’t paid enough to afford child care and we don’t have the public resources we need to fund quality child care programs; people who provide critical home care and nursing home care for seniors and persons with disabilities can’t afford to take care of themselves, and we can’t provide access to quality long-term care for the growing number of Americans who need it; and adjunct professors and other faculty who educate our young people at public universities can barely make ends meet, while the schools themselves are starved for funding, putting higher education out of reach for too many people.
Workers chose April 14 – the day before Tax Day – to emphasize that McDonald’s low wages force more than half the company’s workers to rely on public assistance, costing U.S. taxpayers more than $1 billion every year. In addition, the company’s manipulation of loopholes and offshore schemes to avoid taxes means there is less money for child care, health care and public universities.
Industrywide, low pay forces more than half of fast-food workers to rely on public assistance to support their families, costing taxpayers $7 billion a year. And across the economy, nearly three-quarters of people aided by public assistance are members of a family headed by a worker, costing taxpayers more than $150 billion.
“McDonald’s matters to everyone, because it hurts just about everyone,” said Kimmie DeVries, a child care worker from Kansas City, Mo. “Its influence is huge, but instead of using its global scale to support good jobs and lift pay, McDonald’s uses its enormous footprint for just the opposite. When McDonald’s pays workers as little as it possibly can, it pushes wages down throughout the service sector, making it impossible for workers across the economy to get ahead.”
The effects of low pay reach deep. Earlier this month, Burger King worker and Fight for $15 member Jeffrey Pendleton was found dead in a New Hampshire jail cell. He had been arrested on a minor marijuana possession charge, and was held because he could not afford $100 bail. In USA Today, his co-worker Andy Fontaine wrote, “We may not yet know the cause of death, but we do know this: Jeffrey might be alive if he had been able to afford justice in our society. And his death tragically illustrates that the lives of black men caught up in our criminal justice system matter far less than they should.”
The Fight for $15 is dedicating the April 14strike to Pendleton, a vocal proponent for higher pay and union rights, who participated in the first-ever fast-food strike in New Hampshire last month.
Workers in California, Pennsylvania Win Historic Raises; New York Could be Next
The April 14 strike comes on the heels of an unprecedented series of pay increases this week, with workers in California winning $15/hr and the largest employer in Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, announcing it will pay workers $15/hr. Negotiations around $15 in New York are ongoing.
With wins piling up across the country, the Fight for $15 is building a growing awareness that $15/hr is the minimum wage level American workers in every part of the country need to survive and pay for the necessities to support their families. And the workers in the Fight for $15 are demonstrating the power of coming together in an organization to fight for higher pay.
“There has never been a stronger case for why workers need an organization to help them improve their lives,” said Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry. “Millions of people are being lifted out of poverty because workers joined together and acted like a union.”
Cities including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have raised their minimum wage to $15/hr. And home care workers in Massachusetts and Oregon won $15/hr statewide minimum wages. Companies including Facebook, Aetna, Amalgamated Bank, and Nationwide Insurance have raised pay to $15/hr or higher; and workers in nursing homes, public schools and hospitals have won $15/hr via collective bargaining.
The Democratic Party adopted a $15/hr platform, the Democratic candidates for president have lined up in support of the workers in the Fight for $15, and elected leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Kristen Gillibrand back a $15/hr federal minimum wage. It’s a far cry from the situation when the campaign started—when discourse on the economy was limited to talk of debt and deficits and two lone Democrats in Congress (former Sen. Tom Harkin and former U.S. Rep. George Miller) were the only ones brave enough to even call for $10.10/hr.
Slate wrote that the Fight for $15 has completely “rewired how the public and politicians think about wages; the New York Times declared that “$15 could become the new, de facto $7.25;” and the Washington Post said that $15/hr has “gone from almost absurdly ambitious to mainstream in the span of a few years.”
It all started on Nov. 29, 2012, when 200 New York City McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC cooks and cashiers walked off their jobs, demanding $15/hr and union rights, in what theNew York Times called, “the biggest wave of job actions in the history of the fast-food industry.” Few gave the workers a chance, but their calls for higher pay caught on and spread across the country. Within months, workers walked off their jobs in Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee, sowing the seeds of a national movement that would eventually spread beyond fast food to workers in home care, child care, higher education and other industries.
McDonald’s Under Fire on Both Sides of the Atlantic
The movement is also gaining momentum overseas, as workers across the globe are increasingly joining together to hold McDonald’s accountable. Workers in 40 countries on six continents are expected to protest at McDonald’s restaurants on April 14, with marches in cities ranging from Sao Paolo to Seoul and London to Lagos.
The global protests come as McDonald’s is facing scrutiny by federal regulators from South America to Europe. Late last year, the European Commission opened an investigation into McDonald’s following allegations by trade unions and NGOs that the company has dodged more than one billion euros in taxes since 2009. In January, Italian consumer groups filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission, alleging exorbitant rents and onerous contracts thrust upon franchisees give the company an unfair advantage.
In March, Brazilian prosecutors said they were investigating alleged “fiscal and economic crimes” committed by McDonald’s, including suspected tax avoidance and violations of Brazil’s franchise and competition laws. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the federal governmentcontinues to prosecute its case against the company for violating federal labor laws, charging both McDonald’s and its franchisees with illegally threatening, intimidating, firing and otherwise retaliating against workers who had joined together in the Fight for $15.
Changing the Debate
The strike also comes as workers have made $15 and union rights a hot button political issue in the race for the White House. Everywhere candidates go this primary season, workers in the Fight for $15 have followed closely behind, forcing White House hopefuls to address the demands of the nearly 64 million Americans paid less than $15/hr.
Ahead of debates in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, Flint, Miami, Houston, and Charleston, fast-food workers went on strike for $15 and union rights and marched on the debates, calling on candidates to “come get our vote.” The massive protests forced candidates on both sides of the aisle to address workers’ growing calls for higher pay and union rights. On four occasions in the debates, candidates were pressed by moderators to respond to workers in the Fight for $15, including in November, when the first question directed at GOP candidates asked them to respond to the demands of fast-food workers outside the Milwaukee Theatre demanding $15/hr and union rights.
The New York Times and USA Today both warned candidates who ignore the growing movement that they do so “at their own peril.” Meanwhile, the Associated Press said underpaid workers are flexing, “increasingly potent political muscle,” and that they have “made low wages a hot political issue; and BuzzFeed said they “could make up a powerful new voting bloc.”
A recent poll of workers paid less than $15/hour commissioned by the National Employment Law Project showed that 69% of unregistered voters would register to vote if there were a candidate who supported $15/hour and a union; and that 65% of registered voters paid less than $15/hour would be more likely to vote if there were a candidate who supported $15/hour and a union. That’s 48 million potential voters paid less than $15 who could turn out if there were candidates who backed higher pay and union rights.