AIRPORT and fast-food workers are expected to be joined on picket lines by child care workers, home care workers and graduate assistants, who are among the estimated 64 million US workers who earn less than $15 an hour next Tuesday, November 29.
The Fight for $15 campaign announced protests at 20 airports and strikes and acts of mass civil disobedience at McDonald’s restaurants in 340 cities, including in Chicago and its suburbs.
A strike planned for November 29 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport will miss the Thanksgiving holiday’s busiest travel days and coincide with the nationwide day of protests that the Fight for $15 movement claims will be its most disruptive yet. It said it expects ‘tens of thousands’ of people to participate.
The Fight for $15 asserted on Monday that after the election of Donald Trump to the White House it ‘won’t back down’ from its activism in the face of an incoming administration it believes ‘threatens an extremist agenda to move the country to the right’.
O’Hare is the only airport where workers are planning to walk off the job. About 500 O’Hare workers – baggage handlers, airplane cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants, all employed by private contractors – committed to a strike after a vote last week to protest against low wages, inadequate working conditions and retaliation against organising efforts.
They are being organised by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1. The airport workers plan to picket outside the terminals and conduct silent pickets inside. O’Hare baggage handler Raquel Brito said at a news conference on Monday that the strike was scheduled after the brunt of the Thanksgiving travel rush is over so as not to alienate holiday travellers and instead get their support.
The 21-year-old said: ‘O’Hare airport workers often can’t afford a proper Thanksgiving dinner and know what it’s like to miss Thanksgiving with our families. ‘However, we respect families travelling to be together, and that is why we’re holding off our strike until after the Thanksgiving holiday.’
National Fight for $15 organisers said that November 29 was selected because it is the fourth anniversary of the fast-food worker strikes that launched the Fight for $15 campaign. In addition to demanding a $15 minimum wage and union rights, the campaign said it will keep up ‘unrelenting opposition’ to efforts to ‘block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or health care, deport immigrants or support racism or racist policies.’
Kendall Fells, organising director with the campaign, said in a conference call with reporters: ‘On November 8 our fight got tougher, but it only recommits our resolve.’ The protests are scheduled to begin at 6am on November 29 with strikes at McDonald’s restaurants. The airport protests are to start at noon.
Though the protests are in large part directed against Trump’s rhetoric and policy promises, which include deporting illegal immigrants and repealing the Affordable Care Act, they also are in reaction to economic conditions that ushered in his win. America does not feel fair anymore to a lot of people. The elites ignore us,’ Olivia Pac, a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare, said during a conference call the campaign held Monday.
A $15 wage ‘would mean I might have money to spend on something other than just surviving.’ Olivia, who works as a wheelchair attendant and guard on jet bridges at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, will be going on strike for the first time in her life. Although she lives at home with her parents, Pac says she often has ‘barely enough to pay the bills’, particularly while trying to help chip in after her father lost his job in a factory.
We’re not asking for a lot. We do hard jobs,’ she said on the conference call with the media. She noted that her job, which is ‘difficult and both physically and mentally demanding,’ has at times required her to stand in minus 30 degree weather or endure cuts and bruises dealing with heavy equipment.
‘But every day I go home and I don’t know if I’ve earned enough to get by,’ she said. LiAnne Flakes is a childcare provider in Tampa, Florida who will risk arrest in acts of civil disobedience for the first time in her life. ”This is a big deal for me and something I’ve never done before,’ she said. ‘I am going to take this step because too many parents don’t have access to childcare and too many teachers are struggling to pay the bills.’
Flakes gets paid $12.50 an hour to watch eight children, a sum that has left her frequently struggling to pay rent, going without healthy food, and unable to afford a car. She worked to help elect candidates she supported during the campaign, but, she said, ‘I’m not stopping just because the election is over.’
Campaign organising director Fells said it’s hard to say if Trump would support an increase in the minimum wage, as ‘he’s been all over the place.’ Appealing for a big turnout on November 29, Fight for $15, said on its website: ‘Newly-elected politicians and newly-empowered corporate special interests are pushing an extremist agenda to move the country to the right – That’s why we’re taking to the streets on November 29th – our four-year-old Fight for $15 will not back down!
‘Any efforts to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies, will be met with UNRELENTING OPPOSITION. We are going to hit hard – pushing our most disruptive protests yet on November 29.
‘We’re expanding our movement to nearly 20 airports serving two million passengers a day, and risking arrest via mass civil disobedience in front of McDonald’s restaurants from Detroit to Denver. Our movement of workers spans the whole economy – including baggage handlers, fast-food cooks, home care workers, child care teachers and graduate assistants – and we will DEMAND $15 and union rights, no deportations, an end to the police killings of black people, and politicians keep their hands off Americans’ health care coverage.’
‘Americans are united around our desire for a better future for our kids and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,’ shared Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, Missouri, who is paid just $7.90 an hour after eight years on the job and who plans to strike for $15 and union rights on November 29. We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender. And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.’
‘We will be using unrelenting opposition to combat these things,’ promised Terrance Wise, a McDonald’s worker in Kansas City, Missouri. Fight for $15 added on Saturday: ‘Four years ago in New York City, fast-food workers went on strike for higher wages and union rights. People called us crazy and hopeless.
‘Well today we’ve won raises for 22 million hard-working Americans, and transformed how we talk about work and wages in this country. Together, we kickstarted this movement for good pay for hard work and it shows no sign of stopping. This week, we went to the ballot box and won higher wages in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington (that’s two million more people winning better pay!).
‘And those states join the likes of New York and California, and cities across the country, that have backed this fight. Our work is far from over, but it’s obvious to everyone now that high wages are winnable EVERYWHERE. We won’t stop until we do.’