Low-wage workers’ movement looks to build on banner year

By Ned Resnikoff, MSNBC

The past four decades have been grim for the American labor movement. The percentage of workers enrolled in unions has been slipping since the 1970s, and it may soon approach the single digits if the trend continues. It remains to be seen whether the country’s ailing unions can possibly reverse this decline, or even slow it down; but if a labor resurgence does occur, future historians may label 2013 as the year when it began.

Over the past year, workers in some of America’s lowest-paying industries have gone on strike in unprecedented numbers. Fast food workers in over 100 cities have walked off the job, demanding a base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Walmart workers pushed ahead in their campaign against the world’s largest private employer, winning some positive media coverage and a favorable ruling from the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, low-wage, federally contracted workers attracted the support of over 60 sitting members of Congress, and campaigns across the country for a higher minimum wage won substantive results.

“This year was titanic,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director for the fast food workers’ group Fast Food Forward. “People that were optimistic about this campaign, even that very small group of people got blown out of the water.”

The big question of 2014 is whether these campaigns represent a new era in labor organizing, or a mere speed bump on the road to annihilation. Low-wage worker campaigns must prove that they’re capable of building on the gains of the past year. Organizers with the fast food and Walmart campaigns promise to continue using every tool at their disposal, but are tight-lipped about their future plans.

“I think every tactic that we used was necessary [in 2013],” said Colby Harris, a former Walmart associate affiliated with the workers’ group OUR Walmart. “I wouldn’t say that any one of those tactics is something that we would want to key in on and do more of.” Over the course of the year, OUR Walmart has experimented with media outreach, protests against major Walmart shareholders, strikes of various lengths and sizes, and the filing of unfair labor practice complaints against Walmart.

The fast food campaign will likely attempt more of the same in 2014 as well.

“I think what people can expect is more and greater activity, bigger actions, more militant activities from fast food workers across the country, and continued growth,” said Fells.

Traditional labor organizations like AFL-CIO and SEIU are also building out their infrastructure for supporting low-wage, non-traditional workers’ campaigns. The massive service sector union SEIU has acted as a key supporter of the fast food strikes, and AFL-CIO plans to expand its own alternative labor organization, Working America, into all 50 states.

“We’re excited about going into next year,” said Karen Nussbaum, Working America’s executive director. “For us, this notion that anyone can join the labor movement, that we can create new forms of worker power, that’s one of our very biggest priorities.”

Asked to identify what those new forms of worker power might look like, she pointed to her organization’s campaign for a minimum wage hike in New Mexico. Working America has also partnered with the Ironworkers union in Texas to offer non-union workers an “associate membership” program linking them to the union. Nussbaum said the program would soon be expanding to other states.

Two other labor groups, Jobs with Justice and American Rights at Work, actually merged in 2013. Sarita Gupta, executive director of the newly enlarged Jobs with Justice, said the organization would provide support to low-wage campaigns Fast Food Forward and OUR Walmart through a combination of community organizing and background research.

“Our goal … is to find out what are the research products that help shape the public discourse on these issues,” said Gupta. For example, in May, American Rights at Work released a report alleging that Walmart engaged in “systematic labor abuse” against protesting workers. That charge was one of the key rallying cries for OUR Walmart, and the basis of its successful National Labor Relations Board complaint against the company.

While the efforts of alternative labor groups may have drawn national media attention, that has not yet translated into much in the way of federal legislation. The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour, though both President Obama and a growing majority of Americans support raising it. Congress also failed to extend unemployment insurance in 2013, and no jobs bill appears forthcoming.

Though he referred to the budget deal passed by the House and Senate as “baby steps in the right direction,” AFL-CIO government affairs director Bill Samuels described 2013 overall as a “very frustrating year.”

“It’s certainly the case in the public policy arena that Washington is close to brain dead when it comes to dealing with very serious economic and social problems,” he said. “And right now it seems it will only wake up if alarm bells ring across the country.”

Those alarm bells may be starting to ring as low-wage worker groups help push through minimum wage hikes in cities like SeaTac, Washington, and states like New Jersey. But, said Samuels, “[i]t won’t work without a massive mobilization outside of Washington.”

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Take Action! Tell Chairman Phil Mendelson we need paid sick days for ALL!

Call CM Phil Mendelson to tell him we need paid sick days w/ our minimum wage increase: (202) 724-8032. Click here to read/follow the call script.

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Take Action: Tell Tommy Wells that D.C. Needs a Living Wage

Click here to take action

The Washington, D.C., City Council is just one vote short of the number it needs to overturn the mayor’s imminent veto of the living wage bill that would require big retailers to pay their employees $12.50 an hour. This bill will go a long way to helping our community’s low-wage workers meet their basic needs and support their families.

Walmart, predictably, launched an all-out lobbying and PR blitz against the bill and threatened to stop development of three stores in the city.  But with your help, we still have a chance of ensuring this historic bill passes.

As the lone swing vote, the fate of thousands of deserving workers is in Councilman Tommy Wells’ hands. More importantly, if Tommy wants to be mayor, he cannot ignore the will of citywide workers and residents. He needs to hear from you to override the veto and the intimidation from Walmart.

Tell Tommy Wells to stand with working families and support the living wage bill>>

For more information, download our fact sheet on the Large Retailer Accountability Act.

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Large Retailer Accountability Act Town Hall

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, D.C. community, labor and D.C. council members gathered Tuesday, August 27, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, 3000 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE Washington, D.C. to call on D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to honor Martin Luther King’s dream of “Jobs, Justice and Freedom” by signing the Large Retailer Accountability Act.

It is no secret that the cost of living in D.C. is only going up and more and more residents are being forced out of the city. With all the new development it seems everyone is getting paid except D.C. residents. The LRAA is a fair deal for D.C. residents and only asks for more from the largest, wealthiest companies, who can best afford to pay.

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TONIGHT! Tell Mayor Gray to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act

Living Wage Supporters-

On Tuesday, August 27th, at 6:30pm at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church, 3000 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Councilmember Vincent Orange, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Faith Strategies, and Respect DC are coming together to host a town hall and speak out calling on Mayor Gray to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act. We need you there to help us pack the house to show the Mayor how many DC residents support this bill and how important it is to the future of our city.

You can confirm your attendance on Facebook here or by emailing organizer@respectdc.org. If you need transportation help, let us know, we will have a bus coming from down town.

If you haven’t yet, you can also email the Mayor and tell him to sign the LRAA by clicking here and calling him at 888-264-6154.

Saturday many of you joined us in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. We heard speakers calling for racial, social, and economic justice. Now is the time to take action for justice right here in DC and demand that large, wealthy corporations pay their fair share to DC workers. RSVP here to join us.

The Mayor has said he has not made up his mind on the LRAA. Hopefully this past weekend had a powerful effect on him. He has a chance to stand with the majority of the DC Council and DC residents and be on the right side of history. He can take a stand for the working people of DC and send a strong message that we demand good jobs in our city and we won’t give into threats from outside corporations.

Join us tomorrow to send the message loud and clear, DC demands a living wage!

-Mike Wilson, Respect DC Organizer

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Take Action!

Every year the federal government pays private contractors $1 trillion to to do everything from sew military uniforms to clean the bathrooms at federal buildings to sell food and souvenirs at national landmarks. Many of these contractors are paying their workers poverty wages — sometimes even less than minimum wage! – while their CEOs make millions. Altogether, the federal government creates more bad jobs than anyone else.

This month, hundreds of contracted workers in federal buildings in Washington have staged a series of bold strikes demanding that President Obama sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay living wages. As taxpayers, this is our fight too — we need to raise our voices and tell the President that we want our tax dollars creating good jobs and rebuilding the middle class.

Sign our petition to President Obama: ensure that federal contractors pay a living wage.

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March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom

Join us for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. March for jobs and freedom. Rally at the Lincoln Memorial begins at 8 A.M. This will be followed by a march to the MLK Memorial.

Working to realize the dream 50 years later

Join us for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. March for jobs and freedom. Rally at the Lincoln Memorial begins at 8 A.M. This will be followed by a march to the MLK Memorial.  

The 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom captured the nation’s attention as more than a quarter million people stood together in the nation’s capital and demanded the government invest in quality housing, improve education, create more jobs, increase the national minimum wage, protect everyone’s right to vote, and end all forms of discrimination.

The nation has made progress toward broader goals of the march, but we have a long way to go to achieve its vision for a more equal and just society. Today, far too many workers have low-wage jobs, income inequality is increasing, the fundamental right to vote is under attack, and extremist lawmakers backed by corporate dollars continually try to undermine the social contract that has provided opportunity for so many to move into the middle class. And, as the events that unfolded around the killing of Trayvon Martin have made all too painfully clear, the nation often has an unequal system of justice rooted in pernicious stereotypes based on race, class and gender.

As we commemorate the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we must also recognize the dream is not yet realized and call on our local and national elected leaders to commit to fulfilling the goals.

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D.C. McDonald’s Stores Packed With Surprise Minimum-Wage Protesters

More than 50 protesters filled three District of Columbia McDonald’s restaurant locations urging managers to give employees a voice on the job and a living wage. The protest was warmly received by employees at Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Howard University fast-food outlets. McDonald’s is a national leader in low-wage pay as it earned more than $546 billion and paid its CEO $13.45 million in 2012. The federal minimum wage hasn’t been raised in four years. The protest comes as a new National Employment Law Project poll finds the majority of Americans believe raising the minimum wage should be a congressional priority. The action ended on Capitol Hill where lawmakers called for passage of the “Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.” which would raise the minimum wage to 10.10 per hour.

Press Conference in Order of Appearance
1) Rep. George Miller (D-CA)
2) Rep.Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)
3) Lucila Ramirez (Union Station Janitor)

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Take Action: Low Pay Is Not Okay


Most fast-food workers these days are adults with families to support, and the federal minimum wage of $7.25 just doesn’t cover basic needs like food, health care, rent and transportation. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, KFC, and others are making billions in profit, but pay poverty wages.

We’re standing up and saying it has to stop. Stand with us by adding your name to our petition today:
Click here to sign the petition.

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It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

It's Time To Raise The Minimum Wage

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