Workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage join in the Tax Day workers rally on Bigelow Boulevard between Fifth & Forbes avenues.
Meredith Maloney of Polish Hill joins the Tax Day workers rally for an increase in the minimum wage on Bigelow Boulevard between Fifth & Forbes.
Lucile Prater-Holliday from Homewood joins the Tax Day workers rally for an increase in the minimum wage on Bigelow Blvd between Fifth & Forbes.
By Ann Belser / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
More than 1,500 workers, students and local activists in Oakland joined a nationwide day of protests Wednesday that organizers said hit 236 cities as low-wage workers walked off their jobs to call for higher wages.
The Oakland march was more than three blocks long on Forbes Avenue, which was closed for the event, backing up rush-hour traffic.
One of the protesters was Elizabeth Massey, 26, of the Hill District, who works at the Wendy’s restaurant on the North Side but left her job to attend the rally. It was the second time she had gone on strike from her job; the first was in December 2013 for Pittsburgh’s first fast-food strike.
Ms. Massey, who was with her 6-year-old son Rico, said she is trying to save enough for a security deposit and to pay rent so she can move out of public housing. But on $7.25 an hour, even working full-time, she says she just can’t do it.
One of the student organizers of Wednesday’s protest, Bempoma Pieterson, 21, a political science and communications major at the University of Pittsburgh from Ghana in West Africa, said, “I’m a black woman, and we are disproportionately affected by low wages.” She said she joined the protest because “I feel like I have an obligation to my people and my community.
“Just because my parents aren’t minimum wage workers doesn’t mean I should stand by.”
In Oakland, Calif., former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich led a walkout at a McDonald’s restaurant as part of the largest nationwide action to date for the fast-food workers’ movement.
The movement, known as the Fight for $15, started in November 2012 when fast-food workers in New York City walked off the job demanding higher wages. Nationwide strikes were first held in August 2013 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 2009 national minimum wage increase to $7.35 an hour — the last time the wage was raised.
Those first rounds of strikes, organized by the Service Employees International Union, mostly bypassed Pittsburgh. Although there were pickets at two local McDonald’s restaurant franchises, local SEIU organizers said at the time the union was too busy trying to organize Pittsburgh health system UPMC’s workers.
But as the cry of “$15 and a Union” has been raised around the country, more local fast-food workers have traded their spatulas for picket signs in episodic strikes. Nationally, the protests started by fast-food workers have attracted other low-wage workers in retail, as well as nurses aides, adjunct professors, hospital workers and baggage handlers.
In the 2014 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama called for a minimum wage increase to $10.10, but no legislation made it through Congress.
Corporations have been making changes to their salary structures, although they offer various reasons for the moves.
In February, Wal-Mart announced its workers would make at least $9 an hour by this month and $10 an hour next year. On April 1, McDonald’s said it would raise the wages of workers in company-owned stores to at least $1 above minimum wage.
Some local governments have not waited for a change on the federal level. San Francisco and Seattle passed laws to raise their minimum wages to $15 over the next couple of years.
Corporate advocacy groups, meanwhile, have lashed out at the movement.
The National Council of Chain Restaurants, a division of the National Retail Federation, issued a statement Wednesday from its executive director, Rob Green, blasting unions for leading the labor protests. “The marketplace is working as several major employers are taking steps to adapt to the improving job market by adjusting their wages and benefits for employees,” the trade group leader said.
Mr. Green also said the higher local minimum wages are causing businesses to cut back their payrolls.
The Employment Policies Institute, a Washington, D.C., research organization funded by businesses, on Wednesday released a survey of 223 businesses in Oakland, Calif. — where the minimum wage rose to $12.25 — that showed 56 percent of the respondents said they experienced a “large increase” in labor costs.
The group also said 30 percent of the businesses surveyed reported cutting employees hours or the business’ hours of operations.
“While minimum wage activists continue to argue that wage hikes are all gain with few trade-offs, these stories and the empirical research prove the opposite,” said Michael Saltsman, the research director at the Employment Policies Institute.
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