Fight for $15 Protests Draw Crowds, Conversation

“Chanting: ‘Hold the burgers!’ ‘Hold the fries!’ ‘Make our wages supersize!’ #FightFor15,” Mary Kay Henry tweeted, seemingly quoting protesters. Henry, the International President of Service Employees International Union, is the leader of the organization spearheading the April 15 protests.

Since 2012, SEIU has been organizing Fight For $15, which calls for a dramatic increase in the minimum wages of workers across the United States and globally.

According to the Associated Press, Wednesday’s Fight for $15 protests are “what organizers are calling the biggest ever mobilization of workers in the U.S.” This April 15 event took place on tax day and during a time of intense discussion about minimum wage.

What happened on Wednesday?

Protests were planned for more than 230 cities and college campuses, according to the Associated Press. Chicago, New York City, Orlando, Miami, St. Louis and Tucson were among the cities. 

The Chicago Tribune reported that an estimated 60,000 would protest. Throughout Wednesday, workers went on strike for the day, some leaving in the middle of their shift. Protesters included those in the fast food industry, child care, part-time professors and more. In front of a Chicago McDonald’s, a group of Brink’s Co. armored car workers left their shifts early to join the protests.

These widespread and popular protests caused some locations to close for the day, according to participants.

What is the movement about?

On the Forbes' website, Tim Worstall explains that the Fight For $15 isn’t about minimum wage. Rather, he says it “has far more to do with a union trying to find a reason for its continued existence than it does anyone being serious about trying to get a $15 an hour minimum wage in the US.”

Worstall goes on to say that SEIU is a union trying to increase membership and funding by creating a three-year campaign to raise wages. “And the SEIU is, in my opinion, organizing these protests as a way of attracting people to being members of the SEIU rather than for any other reason.”

On the other hand, George Gresham of the New York Daily News says that today’s movement “is about fixing an economy that’s fundamentally broken for most workers.” Rosemarie Rumbley, a 57-year-old home-care worker and source for his story, joins the protests. Her job pays $10 per hour, despite her 30 years of service. “The men and women who care for the aging population need good, middle-class, family-sustaining jobs, rather than hopeless poverty traps,” Gresham is quoted as saying in the article.

Going beyond wages alone, Black Lives Matter has also been heavily involved in the movement. On Wednesday, a McDonald’s in New York City was the site of a die-in, where protesters lie down as if dead. A student organizer at New York University told The Guardian that protesters yelled “We can’t breathe on $7.25,” a variation on Eric Garner’s last words back in July of 2014.

According to The Guardian, Sabaah Jordan, a Black Lives Matter organizer, said in March that workers “who are fighting for $15 are the same black and brown people who are vulnerable to unchecked violence in the hands of the police. These issues are completely connected. It is part of the systematic exploitation of black and brown people in this country and it’s gone on for too long. If these corporations want to show that black lives truly do matter, they must grant workers $15 — a livable wage — and the right to a union.”

What do people think?

Naturally, this variety of reactions is also seen across the Internet. Specifically, Twitter. Some support, others critique.

What does this mean for businesses?

According to ABC News, wage hikes could mean the price of a Big Mac increasing by 68 cents. The news source uses the estimate by Arnobio Morelix, an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas School of Business, which says that increasing pay from $7.25 to $15 per hour would mean increased food costs. A Big Mac would go from $3.99 to $4.67, the Big Mac meal would rise from $5.69 to $6.66, and the Dollar Menu would be $1.17. Another estimate by 100 economists says if the wage became $10.50, the Big Mac would cost only 1 percent more, or 5 cents extra.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on the subject, saying an increase to $15 an hour would be a 107 percent increase in the federal minimum wage. The article cites that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that increasing minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would cause 500,000 jobs to be lost. “But there are several reasons that $15 an hour may not be such a reach,” the article goes on to say. San Francisco and Seattle have already increased wages to the proposed $15, which helps workers compensate for a higher cost of living. According to the Census Bureau, the cost of living is 21 percent higher in Seattle compared to the rest of the U.S. However, other cities are similarly expensive, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago and San Diego, according to the article.

What does this mean for workers?

In a video by The Guardian, Sabrina Johnson works three jobs to support herself, her sister and her sister’s two children. “I make $9.57 at Chipotle, $10 at the airport, $13.88 doing home health aid,” she says. “I’m tired of struggling, waking up at 6:30 in the morning or 7:30 in the morning, not coming home until 1 am in the morning or 2 am.”

“My life is work,” she says in the video. “All I know is work.”