Business

Strikes, rallies for higher wages for fast-food and other workers planned Tuesday

Airport worker Raquel Brito (left) speaks at a news conference at O’Hare International Airport Nov. 21 in Chicago. Organizers of a Nov. 29 nationwide day of protests by hourly workers say a planned strike at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, is only a part of their push for a $15 hourly wage and union rights.
Airport worker Raquel Brito (left) speaks at a news conference at O’Hare International Airport Nov. 21 in Chicago. Organizers of a Nov. 29 nationwide day of protests by hourly workers say a planned strike at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, is only a part of their push for a $15 hourly wage and union rights. AP

The four-year-old Fight for $15 movement has planned protests, walkouts and strikes Tuesday, Nov. 29, at hundreds of work locations around the country, including three large rallies in Kansas City.

Thousands of fast-food workers at McDonald’s and other national restaurant chains are scheduled to walk out beginning at 6 a.m.

Kansas City events will begin at 6 a.m. with a fast-food workers’ strike and demonstration at Linwood and Main streets.

Students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City will participate in a “speak out” beginning at 11:15 a.m. at the student union.

A “United We Stand” rally will be held beginning at 5 p.m. at 63rd and The Paseo, after which participants will march to another location for what’s described as a “civil disobedience” action.

One of the biggest protest actions nationally is set for O’Hare Airport in Chicago, where contract baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants rescheduled a strike originally announced for last week. Protest rallies are planned for noon at about 20 airports around the country.

The Fight for $15 campaign began Nov. 29, 2012, when about 200 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City. Their demands included more pay and the right to form unions without fear of retaliation.

Since that time, movement organizers estimate that about 22 million low-wage workers have received raises, either by companies voluntarily increasing pay, through collective bargaining, or because cities or states raised their minimum wages.

Nationally, the federal minimum wage remains $7.25 an hour, where it has been since 2009. Some states, like Missouri, have adopted higher minimum wages with cost-of-living escalators. In Missouri, the state minimum moves to $7.70 on Jan. 1, 2017.

On Election Day, voters in four states and one city approved minimum wage increases to between $12 and $15 an hour.

Organizers said many workers involved in the Fight for $15 movement are willing to risk arrest for civil disobedience.

In addition to fast-food and airport workers, protesters are expected to include child care workers, health care workers and graduate assistants. Some Uber drivers also have pledged to join the protests.

The Service Employees International Union is a major force behind the movement, urging organization in several low-paying occupations.

The Economic Policies Institute, a think tank that represents employers’ interests, is countering the rallies by releasing a series of videos featuring restaurants and other businesses around the country that closed because they said they couldn’t afford the imposition of higher minimum wages.

The consequences of dramatic starter wage increases — including lost jobs, reduced hours and business closures — are playing out in real time,” the institute said in a press release.

Planners made available to the media in advance of the protests some thoughts from Betty Douglas, who earns $7.90 an hour after eight years on the job at McDonald’s in St. Louis.

“We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender,” Douglas said. “And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers, and we win justice for all people in our nation.”

Protests were held this year at presidential and vice presidential debate sites, and unions worked to mobilize voters with mixed results. The Democratic Party adopted a platform calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, but sweeping wins for the Republican Party put the wage future in doubt.

Fight for $15 organizers said they hope President-elect Donald Trump and other Republicans note the big “yes” votes for higher minimums in the states where voters weighed in on the issue.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

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