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Snapshot of the Movement — The Fight for $15 in 7 Major Cities

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On April 15, over 60,000 union members, students and low wage workers in 230 cities across the country walked out of their work places and classrooms to march, rally and occupy for a $15/hour minimum wage and the right to a union. SEIU played a key role in providing organizing resources, organizers and mobilizing it’s membership to come out for the day of action. With its focus on building a broader campaign, 15 Now also played a critical role in mobilizing, organizing and supporting the strikes and direct actions.

In many cities the marches took on a radical fighting tone, linking up with younger activists mobilized through the Black Lives Matter movement. Fast food workers, union members, students, adjunct faculty, faith organizations, and community groups came out to demand social, economic and racial justice. This mutual solidarity and support shows the potential of the campaign to mobilize workers and youth to win a real increase in wages for all workers, and build a broader movement to challenge the 1% corporate agenda: attacks on workers, unions, women, LGBTQ people, education, public services, and police violence.

Seattle, WA / Photo: Alex Garland

Seattle, WA – Despite the fact that Seattle has already won a $15/hour minimum wage, over a thousand people rallied in Seattle behind the theme “15 is just the beginning.”  Hundreds of people came into town from all over Washington after having their own actions for $15/hour. Protesters marched through downtown converging on Seattle University where they occupied the Albers School of Business. They took over the main foyer, and called upon Seattle University to count the ballots of adjunct faculty who have been organizing for a union. Later 21 protestors wearing t-shirts that said: “Inequality ends with us” were arrested blocking the intersection of 12th and Madison. These actions show how the movement has spread across Washington since the victory in Seattle, and the need for constant vigilance to defend the gains we have won.

Boston, MA – 3,000 workers and students gathered from around Massachusetts to kick off the world-wide demonstrations for a higher minimum wage in Fortsyth Park. The march and rally was a sea of red and blue. The red: placards and shirts for 15 Now,  the campaign which delivered an astounding three-to-one vote by Northeastern students for a $15/hour minimum wage on campus. The blue: for SEIU, the union organizing low wage workers through Fight For $15.

Harvard University students for $15
Harvard University students for $15

During the march, many of the chants drew heavily on the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement: “If we don’t get it, shut it down,” “I believe that we will win,” and “It is our duty to fight…”.  Students – from elite Harvard Divinity School, to working-class Bunker Hill Community College – marched alongside their adjunct professors and teaching assistants. The unity and between students and workers was felt throughout the day.

Philadelphia, PA
Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA –The City of Philadelphia erupted in raucous, righteous noise as 15 now temple april 15Fight For 15 and 15 Now activists spread throughout the city for a day-long series of actions in protest of the corporate policies that exploit the working class in order to fill the pockets of the 1%.  From South to North, and East to West they marched, rallied, mic checked, and occupied for $15/hour and a union. The chants “15 Now!”, and “We Work!  We Sweat!  Put $15 On Our Check!” echoed throughout the city.

At Temple University students, faculty and food service workers struck and rallied and marched out to join the action. Temple 15 Now crashed the University President’s Barbecue to deliver a letter demanding 15 and union for all Temple U. employees. Then they occupied and mic checked Morgan Hall to speak out against low wages, poverty, institutional racism and the university’s role in gentrifying the neighborhood.

Multiple marches converged downtown and SEIU 32BJ, Fight For 15, and 15 Now were joined by a diverse cross-section of local unions and community organizations. As the crowd swelled to over 1,000 they marched through Center City stopping at several corporate headquarters for brief remarks then danced and chanted to a final rally at 30th Street Station.

Portland, OR
Portland, OR

Portland, OR – Portland joined the action with a combative force that shows the strength and power of over a year of grassroots organizing for $15 within the city. Led by 15 Now PDX and a coalition of labor unions and student groups, almost 500 low-wage workers, students and supporters marched through downtown. The march targeted several union busting employers, City Hall (which recently passed $15 Fair Wage Policy that left out some 2,000 temporary, seasonal, and part-time city workers), and ended at Portland State University where they called for $15/hour for the university’s early childhood educators and childcare workers. Demonstrators took over the Student Union and shut down the campus cafeteria to protest the low-wages paid by Aramark to campus food service and janitorial staff.

Airport workers at MSP march for $15
Airport workers at MSP march for $15

Minneapolis, MN –In Minneapolis the movement for $15/hour is gaining momentum as more allies come onboard and workers begin to feel their power in mass action. Minneapolis Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, CTUL, and 15 Now marched and rallied at several McDonald’s to defend a key strike leader who had been fired a week earlier. While across the city, MSP Airport workers – reinforced by allies in 15 Now and SEIU – met at the airport to demand that the Airserve management meet with them to hear their demands. At the University of Minnesota, adjunct faculty, backed up by 1,000  union and community supporters, walked off the job to demand $15 and a union. As the day closed allies came together to rally and occupy a McDonalds. Activists from 15 Now, CTUL, NOC, Teamsters 320, SEIU 284 and AFSCME 3800 rallied while Lizzo and Manny Phesto entertained the crowd with pro worker and pro $15 songs.

15 now nj april 15
Newark, NJ

New Jersey – April 15th day marked a major step forward toward winning $15/hour in New Jersey. 15 Now NJ worked with several unions, community, and student organizations to build demonstrations across the state. In Newark, over 300 people shut down part of the city’s busiest street and marched from City Hall to McDonald’s. SEIU 32BJ, the Newark Education Workers Caucus (NTU-AFT) and the New Jersey State Industrial Union Council, had a strong presence.  The Mayor of Newark and several city councilmembers came out in support of a $15 an hour minimum wage.  Outside of Newark, Verizon workers from IBEW Local 827 organized a standout in solidarity with the workers fighting for $15 throughout the country. And in Parsippanny, NJ workers gathered on their lunch break to picket outside of a local McDonald’s on a major highway. 15 Now NJ participants attended SEIU’s Fight for $15 launch meeting in New Brunswick to put forward suggestions and advocate for a broad working class movement.

15 Now NYC april 15
New York City

New York City, NY – Like other cities NYC had multiple actions throughout the day. The slogan ‘New York Needs A Raise’ resonated throughout the city. In the morning 1,000 workers met in Brooklyn, near the site of the initial walk-out strikes for $15 two years ago and  shut down a major intersection leading to the Brooklyn Bridge. Activist Chelsea Forgenie spoke to hundreds of people and received an incredible reception as she linked the fight against poverty wages to the Black Lives Matter movement, immigrants’ rights movement, and the overall anti-capitalist struggle.  The action then moved to Columbia University where students and workers rallied for 15 and a union. A huge crowd gathered at Columbus Circle and  Police estimated about 15,000 people marched from there to Times Square, shutting down the busiest areas of the city.

Students stage a die-in demanding racial and economic justice I Photo: Jenna Pope
Students stage a die-in demanding racial and economic justice / Photo: Jenna Pope

Across the country there were smaller actions in cities and towns. In Worcester MA, Pittsburg and Lancaster PA, and Berkeley CA, 15 Now chapters working with unions, Jobs With Justice, and other allies held press conferences and rallied in support of 15 and a union.

The movement to win $15/hour has broad popular support. The bosses are going to use every means at their disposal – legal and illegal – to try to delay, confuse, and beat us. We have the power to win! But it won’t happen by asking nice! We have to organize, mobilize, fight and strike hard! 15 Now is ready to work with all individuals and organizations moving into action to raise the wage!

The mood is high! The time is now! When we fight, we can win!

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