Thousands rally across state calling to end poverty wages

21 arrested in Seattle for civil disobedience, including WSLC’s Jeff Johnson


SEATTLE (April 16, 2015) — United under the call, “$15 is just the beginning — Inequality ends with us,” thousands of fast food workers, homecare workers, retail workers, immigrant workers, drivers, adjunct professors, students, union members and community supporters across Washington state marched and rallied on Wednesday as part of the biggest nationwide mobilization yet in the fight against poverty-wage jobs.

In Seattle, the day’s action culminated in the occupation of a Seattle University building, where hundreds chanted “count the votes,” urging the school’s administration to end its court appeals against the universities’ adjunct professors freedom to form unions and count the ballots in their union election, as ordered by the National Labor Relations Board. After leaving the building, hundreds shifted the protest to a nearby intersection where 21 workers, students, and community leaders — including Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson (below) — were arrested for civil disobedience.

Johnson had this to say about the day’s events:

The streets of Seattle, like many around the country yesterday, were filled with the defiant and hopeful voices of workers, young and old, saying they want a raise and a union.

Retail workers from Macy’s and Walmart, childcare workers, adjunct and tenured faculty from Seattle University, home care workers, students, senior advocates and many others gave testimony to an economy gone off the rails with extraordinary income inequality.

The chants “$15 is just the beginning” and “I believe that we can win” were a battle call in the streets but as well a foreshadowing of what is to come. Paying lip service to a broadly shared prosperity and anemic responses to staggering and debilitating wage and income inequality just won’t cut it anymore. Inequality and climate change have truly changed everything we ever thought about the way our economy and society is organized. People are beginning to organize for real change. And “I do believe that we will win.”

Wednesday’s actions began early in Federal Way, Spokane, Yakima and Pasco, where fast-food workers and their supporters rallied outside local Burger Kings, McDonald’s and Taco Bell restaurants to call for better pay. Later in the morning in Olympia, workers walked off the job at Capital Mall to rally and march, and later occupied the State Capitol.


Other actions, including protests outside fast-food restaurants and other poverty-wage employers plus sign-waving at highway overpasses, happened in Tacoma, Vancouver, Bellingham, Aberdeen, Bremerton, Port Orchard, Shelton, and Everett.

It all came together in a major march of more than 1,000 people snaking through downtown Seattle and gathering more and more participants as it progressed. The march included stops at:

Uber headquarters — Drivers for Uber are organizing an App-Based Drivers Association with drivers for Lyft and Sidecar. Working at the leading edge of our changing economy, these drivers are technically considered independent contractors and so are not covered by the city’s minimum wage law and lack many of the other protections and rights that most workers have. Uber divers are challenging the way this multibillion-dollar company exploits immigrant drivers and puts them on a path to poverty.

Downtown Macy’s — One-third of Macy’s workers in Seattle are now paid the city’s $11 minimum wage — thousands of retail workers across the state are paid even less, not to mention the Macy’s stores that are just outside of Seattle. And they struggle with cuts to hours and irregular scheduling practices that make it difficult to arrange childcare, go to school, or just have a life.

Seattle University — Tuition has risen 82% in the last 10 years, but a majority of faculty at Seattle University are working part time for low pay, no job security, and few benefits. Adjunct professors are poverty-wage workers who have held a vote to try to form a union and improve their wages and working conditions, but the administrators at the Catholic university are fighting their right to organize, citing religious objections. (Even though the Catholic Church and the Pope are on record as strongly supporting unions and the right to organize.)

After occupying a building at Seattle University for nearly an hour (pictured above), the march end a couple blocks away at 12th and Jackson, where marchers circled the intersection, blocking traffic. A group of 21 workers, workers, students, and community leaders sat in the center of the intersection and refused orders by the Seattle Police Department to disperse.

They were each arrested. Among them were:

Julie Harms Cannon, Seattle University adjunct professor: “I want to practice what I am asked to teach.”

Denese Wallace, home care worker: “Communities need to come together for social and economic change. I want to be part of that change.”

Michael Church, airport worker: “I’m doing this in memory of Erick Frank, a former co-worker who recently passed away. Erick was my mentor in the fight to win $15 an hour and to finally have a union at Menzies, the Alaska Airlines contractor I work for.”

Candice Hemphill, Macy’s worker: “I have to take medication that lowers my immune system, so one flu could risk my life. But Macy’s won’t let us stay home when we’re sick without getting disciplined. They’re also cutting our hours, and they pay a third of us near minimum wage. Retail workers are struggling — this is about getting Macy’s to give us the pay, hours and sick leave we deserve.”

Manuel Carillo, Seattle University student: “All those who participated in the actions today know that collectively we are helping to create a more just and humane world, we invite Seattle University to stop obstructing and join us on the right side of justice.”

Kathy Yasi, family childcare provider: “I am here today to stand with and support all low wage workers; early learning teachers, fast food workers, adjunct professors and airport workers. Our state’s early learning teachers are amongst the lowest paid in the nation. That’s not right!”

Robby Stern, senior advocate: “I believe it is essential for senior citizens and retirees to stand up for the future of our kids and grandkids. The income inequality that plagues our country is undermining our future and our democracy.”

Others arrested for civil disobedience included Seattle University faculty Theresa Earenfight, Louisa Edgerly, Michael Ervick, Emily Lieb, Michael Ng and Ben Stork; SU students Clint Abodaca and Olivia Engle; and community leaders and supporters: Shane Anderson, SEIU 925 President Karen Hart, SU alum James Munger, Sasha Somer, and preschool teacher Lauren Tozzi.

Similar rallies and protests were held across the nation on Wednesday.

Also this week, the University of California – Berkeley released a study that found nationwide, U.S. taxpayers spend $153 billion each year to provide food, shelter and medical care to workers whose employers don’t pay them enough to live on. In Washington, the study found, state taxpayers spend nearly $1 billion to provide food stamps, medical care and other basic needs of poverty-wage working people. In addition, the federal government spends another $4 billion a year to provide similar services to our state’s residents.

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