Fight for $15: On Worldwide Day of Action, Workers Demand Livable Wages

Fight for $15—the movement calling for livable wages and union rights for low-income workers—launched a worldwide day of action on Wednesday, April 15th.

Fight for $15—the movement calling for livable wages and union rights for low-income workers—launched a worldwide day of action on Wednesday morning with walkouts and rallies across the globe, spanning more than 200 cities in the U.S. and 35 countries.

By early Wednesday morning, protests were already taking place in numerous locations, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Boston, among others. Workers blocked intersections in front of McDonald's restaurants and planned speeches, presentations, and marches throughout the day for what organizers say will be one of the biggest Fight for $15 days of action yet.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25, though it varies from state to state. Organizers chose April 15 not just because it is similar to their call—"For 15"—but because they wanted to use Tax Day to highlight how workers are paid so little that they are forced to rely on public assistance to survive.

"On Tax Day, fast-food workers from Pittsburgh to Pasadena will walk off the job, while adjunct professors, home care, childcare, airport, industrial laundry and Walmart workers will march and rally in what will be the most widespread mobilization ever by US workers seeking higher pay," organizers said in a statement.

Workers, who demonstrated under the banners of a broad coalition of organizations, including OUR Walmart, Jobs With Justice, D.C. Working Families, and several local unions, among other groups, emphasized the importance of raising wages as the cost of living in the U.S. soars.

In the nation's capital, workers marched with signs that read, "We Care for D.C." and chanted, "What's outrageous? Poverty wages!"

"In D.C., housing is getting more expensive, jobs are paying less and families are struggling to get by," said D.C. Working Families director Delvone Michael. "D.C. is facing its widest wage gap in 35 years and workers need $15 an hour, if they want to be able to support their families in one of the country's most costly cities without relying on public assistance."

Further north, protesters in New York blocked the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and picketed a McDonald's in Flatbush.

"Everyone just wants to survive and work happily. Fifteen dollars and union is what any fast-food worker needs," one McDonald's worker from Boston, Darius Cephas, told the Guardian. "I am not saying that everything will be better, but it will be livable. It will be manageable."

Underscoring the solidarity among two growing movements across the U.S., many actions were also joined by Black Lives Matter activists calling for justice over recent police killings of unarmed black men and women.

Report: US Taxpayers Bear ‘Hidden Cost’ of Poverty Wages

Low-wage workers comprise more than 70 percent of individuals enrolled in federal and state-run poverty assistance programs

Stagnant wages and declining employer-provided benefits mean that low-wage workers in the United States are increasingly reliant on federal and state-run public assistance programs.

In fact, U.S. taxpayers pay roughly $153 billion each year to supplement employers who refuse to pay a livable wage, according to report published Monday by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor.

U.S. taxpayers "bear a significant portion of the hidden costs of low-wage work in America," said report authors Ken Jacobs, Ian Perry, and Jenifer MacGillvary.

According to the report, The High Public Cost of Low Wages (pdf), 73 percent of those enrolled in the country's major public support programs are members of working families. The Berkeley study examined state spending for Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), and federal spending for those programs as well as food stamps (SNAP) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

Despite a rebounding economy, U.S. workers are not being compensated. According to the research, when adjusted for inflation, wage growth from 2003 to 2013 was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution. Further, the number of non-elderly Americans who receive insurance benefits from an employer has fallen from 67 percent in 2003 to 58.4 percent in 2013.

"When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs," said report co-author Ken Jacobs, chair of the Labor Center. "This creates significant cost to the states."

According to the Berkeley study, the reliance on public assistance spans a diverse range of occupations, including fast-food workers (52%), childcare workers (46%), home care workers (48%), and even part-time college faculty (25%).

In total, more than half of all state and federal spending on public assistance program now goes to working families, the study finds.

The report comes amid a growing push to increase the federal minimum wage. On Wednesday, workers in hundreds of cities across the country are holding an international day of action to call for a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

And the Berkeley researchers contend, raising wages "would lift working families out of poverty and allow all levels of government to better target how our tax dollars are used."


This article was originally published by Common Dreams, and is republished here through a CC license. Photo via George Kelly/cc/flickr.

Slideshow: NYC Fast Food Workers Rally for a ‘Living Wage’

Slideshow: NYC Fast Food Workers Rally for a ‘Living Wage’ (via Moyers & Company)

Earlier this month, leaders from the New York Senate and the Assembly joined fast food workers outside a McDonald’s restaurant in midtown Manhattan to demand that the $8 minimum wage being paid to workers in the state be raised. New York State recently…

Life as a Service Worker in New York City

WORKING RIFFS (via City Limits)

Jobs in New York City aren't all in Silicon Alley. The people who make the city's service economy run put up with pests, stress, lost toes and modest wages, all in a day's work. Six of them tell their stories. Newsstand Clerk Salary: Less than $13,000…

All Arguments Against Raising the Minimum Wage Have Fallen Apart

Conservatives should be on the front line of the battle to raise the minimum wage. Work is supposed to make one independent, but with the inflation-adjusted federal minimum down by a third from its peak, low-wage workers depend on billions of dollars…

Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies

The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.

Take, for example, Yum Brands, which operates the Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut chains. Wages for the corporation’s nearly 380,000 U.S. workers are so low that many of them have to turn to taxpayer-funded anti-poverty programs just to get by. The National Employment Law Project estimates that Yum Brands’ workers draw nearly $650 million in Medicaid and other public assistance annually.

Click here to download the report
Click here to download the report

Meanwhile, at the top end of the company’s pay ladder, CEO David Novak pocketed $94 million over the years 2011 and 2012 in stock options gains, bonuses and other so-called “performance pay.” That was a nice windfall for him, but a big burden for the rest of us taxpayers.

Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay
Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay

Under the current tax code, corporations can deduct unlimited amounts of such “performance pay” from their federal income taxes. In other words, the more corporations pay their CEO, the lower their tax burden. Novak’s $94 million payout, for example, lowered Yum’s IRS bill by $33 million. Guess who makes up the difference?

My new Institute for Policy Studies reportcalculates the cost to taxpayers of this “performance pay” loophole at all of the top six publicly held fast food chains — McDonald’s, Yum, Wendy’s, Burger King, Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Brands.

Combined, these firms’ CEOs pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible “performance pay” in 2011 and 2012 , lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million. To put that figure in perspective, it would be enough to cover the average cost of food stamps for 40,000 American families for a year.

After Yum, McDonald’s received the second-largest government handout for their executive pay. James Skinner, as CEO in 2011 and the first half of 2012, pocketed $31 million in exercised stock options and other fully deductible “performance pay.” Incoming CEO Donald Thompson took in $10 million in performance pay in his first six months on the job. Skinner and Thompson’s combined performance pay translates into a $14 million taxpayer subsidy for McDonald’s.

What makes all this even more galling is that these fast food giants are pocketing massive taxpayer subsidies for their CEO pay while fighting to keep their workers’ wages at rock bottom . All of the big fast food corporations are members of the National Restaurant Association, which is aggressively working to block a raise in the federal minimum wage to a level that would let millions of fast food workers make ends meet without public support.

There’s an easy solution to the perverse “performance pay” loophole. A bill introduced by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) would simply set a firm $1 million cap for executive pay deductions — with no exceptions. Corporations could still pay their CEOs whatever they choose, but at least taxpayers wouldn’t be subsidizing anything above $1 million. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates this legislation would generate more than $50 billion over 10 years.

It makes no sense for employees of highly profitable giant corporations to have to rely on government assistance for basic needs. It makes even less sense for ordinary taxpayers to subsidize the CEOs who are benefiting most from the fast food industry’s low-road business model.

With Congress again mulling deficit-reduction strategies, it’s high time that Washington stopped letting fast food giants gorge on both of these absurd subsidies.

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Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the author of the new report Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Funded Pay. IPS-dc.org
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