‘We are not going to back down,” said Shantel Walker. A pizza maker at a Papa John’s in Bedford-Stuyvesant, she was charged with civil disobedience Wednesday morning when she participated in a nationwide day of action to demand a $15 minimum wage and union organizing rights for low-wage workers.
Walker and about 30 people — including City Council members Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso and Mark Levine — sat on the street in front of the McDonald’s at Liberty Street and Broadway in the Financial District.
In April, after lobbying by Walker and scores of fast-food workers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that set a two-tiered minimum wage — $15 an hour in NYC and its environs, and a lower legal minimum in less-expensive areas. It will be phased in gradually to minimize the impact on businesses, and millions in the Empire State will enjoy higher wages as a result.
By the end of 2018, all NYC fast-food workers will earn at least $15 an hour. (Research finds that higher minimum wages have little impact on overall employment rates but significantly improve workers’ lives.)
Workers in NYC want to build on that victory by demanding union rights and supporting $15 minimum wage efforts throughout the country. On Wednesday afternoon, dozens of NYC workers went to Newark Liberty International Airport to join a march and demand that employees there receive the same pay raises as their counterparts at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.
Donald Trump’s win at the ballot box looms ominously for low-wage workers, especially given the far-right candidates he’s considering to head the Department of Labor, which enforces rules on overtime pay and worker protections. But Wednesday’s actions were an encouraging reminder that workers can still make progress by pressuring local and state governments and the private sector.
“This is what it takes to get an economy that works for all of us, not just a few,” Walker said of her efforts this week. Undaunted by the right-wing billionaire about to occupy the Oval Office, she pointed out that the president has to answer to the people: “He works for us now.”
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.