By JEFF JOHNSON
(May 31, 2013) — Hey hey, ho ho, these low wages, have got to go! Forget the burger, forget the fries, it’s time our wages were supersized!
Over the past 24 hours, chants like these rang out all over Seattle and King County as hundreds of young fast-food workers went out on strike to protest low wages and the lack of a voice at the workplace.
I was able to picket and march with (and photograph, at right) about 200 of these young workers and community supporters on Capitol Hill yesterday in front of the Qdoba and Subway stores on Broadway. Their spirits were as high as their message was simple and straight-forward. This was a strike against poverty and the obscene inequality that exists in our country and Seattle today. In between chants, young workers spoke passionately about the difficulty of making rent payments, buying groceries and supporting young families on fast-food wages.
At least six fast-food stores around Seattle and environs were closed down in the strike, but attention to the issue gained enormous attention. Today, workers who went out on strike will be escorted back into the stores to reclaim their jobs and they will take with them the dignity of standing up for a just cause. Though the 24-hour strike is over, this is only the beginning of a movement to raise wages above poverty and to have a voice at the workplace. Stay tuned.
Last night, the Healthy Tacoma Campaign to bring paid sick and safe days to workers who are employed in the City of Tacoma was kicked off at the Pierce County Central Labor Council by Secretary-Treasurer Patty Rose. A couple hundred union members, community leaders, elected officials, and small business owners came together to announce the principles of this campaign: No one should have to go to work sick; workers should not lose income or fear losing their job because they stay home sick; and paid sick leave is a public health, workers’ right, and moral issue.
Restaurant worker Alma Gutierrez (pictured at right) told a story about when her son suffered a severe broken leg during a soccer game while she was at work. When she asked her employer for time off to join her son at the hospital she was told she could go but that she would lose her job if she did. Alma said, “how is it fair to have to choose between earning an income and caring for what is most important in my life, my child.”
Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), who sponsored HB 1313 which would have extended paid sick and safe leave at the state level, spoke passionately about the need for a City of Tacoma ordinance. Paraphrasing Laurie, she said that a parent shouldn’t have to decide on Monday or Tuesday whether to stay home with a sick child or lose bringing home a paycheck on Saturday — we are better than that in Tacoma, we are better than that in Washington State.
Anders Ibsen, a Tacoma City Councilman, who will sponsor the paid sick leave ordinance revved up the crowd and gave a sense of what it would take to pass this ordinance. Anders’ is a fierce advocate for this issue and an eloquent spokesperson.
You can learn more about the campaign at healthytacoma.net.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.