November 10, 2015

Unionists and advocates Fight for 15

Author: Leslie Duncan Fottrell and Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT Communications
fight for 15
Caption: Activists at the Capitol. Photo by Andrew Watson.

fight for 15More than 250 people packed the Million Dollar Staircase at the Albany Fight for $15 National Day of Action evening rally at the Capitol. Initially scheduled for the East Lawn, participants had to move inside because of rain. Undaunted, they took to the staircase, the colorful signs painting a rich tapestry of coalition partners: CSEA; SEIU; New York State Nurses Association; Black Lives Matter; fast food workers; and others. The energy was palpable.

"What do we want? Fifteen! When do we want it? Now!" a series of chants energized the crowd before speakers addressed the crowd.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, Vice President Paul Pecorale and Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner stood in solidarity with the many coalition partners present.

In his address to attendees, Pallotta -- whose office oversees legislative and political issues for the union -- said: "We're here to fight for dignity." The fight for dignity is for all workers to make a wage that can support their families. There are many education professionals who do not earn a living wage, Pallotta added. "We are going to continue this fight with all of our coalition partners, all of labor, all of our friends in the Legislature."

Citing the ever-growing economic gap, the Most Reverend Howard Hubbard, bishop emeritus of Albany, told the crowd: "Capitalism is not working for the majority of Americans."

Sr. Francine Dempsey of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Albany attended the rally with fives other nuns, one associate and one supporter. Dempsey said her group attended the rally because: "We believe this is the root to eradicating poverty and hunger. We have to keep pushing."

Mark Emanatian, Capital District organizer of Citizen Action, estimates that more than 600 people attended the day-long Albany events.

Meanwhile, rain didn't dampen the spirits of other protesters in cities across the state -- all demanding a $15 minimum wage.

"Soggy but resolute!" said one tweet from Rochester, accompanied by a picture of NYSUT's John Jozlowski, Kim Minchella and Jolene DiBrango, huddled in ponchos under umbrellas.

"Rain can't stop the union power!" tweeted NYSUT's Mike Grubiak in the Hudson Valley, where protesters gathered outside a McDonald's restaurant.

"No burgers, no fries — we want our wages supersized," they chanted.

At Buffalo City Hall, protesters chanted: "We can't survive on $8.75!"

UUP's Fred Floss told the wet throng in Buffalo, "no one should work full time for less than a living wage."

The Hicksville Congress of Teachers also turned out in the rain, "rep'ing with our brothers and sisters in labor!"

DiBrango, a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors and of the Pittsford District TA, tweeted, "Should anyone who dedicates their life 2 working w/kids earn < $15 per hr? No! That's why we march."

Go to the Member Action Center[LINK] to join NYSUT's $15 for Everyone campaign, which is part of a massive national movement. Fast-food workers walked out in nearly 300 cities Tuesday. It is the beginning of a push to muster the political power of 64 million low-wage workers in next year's presidential election.

But it's not only about fast-food workers. Protesters also rallied for low-paid home care, child care, farm, nursing home and other workers seeking to make their voices heard.

Many people working in public education — many of them NYSUT members — also struggle to live on wages that force them to work extra jobs and rely on public assistance.

If you doubt whether the three years of grassroots action on this question of a livable minimum wage has made an impact, consider what happened Tuesday. With conspicuously good timing, the governor announced that he is raising the minimum wage for state workers — over a number of years — to $15 an hour. It could raise the wages of 10,000 state employees.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed a demonstration in Brooklyn: "We need the $15 minimum wage to be the law of this state," he said. "Everyone deserves a $15 minimum wage."

Of course, this is a national movement, and the presidential candidates are paying attention. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton recently said she supports a $12 federal minimum, while Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley support $15.