Where will we find inspiration for the challenging days ahead? Where can we look, as we struggle to resist a President-elect who stirs up division, and whose policies will erode access to opportunity, even for his own working-class voters?
One place I will look: to courageous fast-food workers who have led the Fight for $15. Their courage, bold vision, solidarity across race and gender, and vision for economic fairness have transformed what is possible for low-wage workers. That’s why I’m getting arrested today, as part of their National Day of Action.
Four years ago, just after our last presidential election, a small group of fast-food workers in Brooklyn walked off their jobs, demanding $15 an hour and a union. I was honored to join them in their very first action. But I’ll be honest: I thought their demands were a pipe dream. And I was skeptical that they would risk their jobs.
But they knew that the vision of a living wage—and a sharp critique of the economic inequality in the fast-food industry—would inspire other workers to action. They were right, and they had the courage to back it up.
We’re going to need that courage in the days ahead, in the face of hate crimes and bullying, the loss of health care, the threats to immigrants, to Muslims, to women—such a long list that the erosion of workers’ rights barely gets a mention. Getting arrested today is part of a long tradition of civil disobedience, and it takes a little courage. But it is nothing compared to risking your job.
Two of the workers that I met in those early strikes, Eddie Guzman and Gregory Reynoso, did lose their jobs. Together with other workers and elected officials, we sat down with their managers. Guzman got his job back. Reynoso did not, but was hired as an organizer on the Fight for $15 campaign. That solidarity, and the protection it provided, helped other workers find courage. Together, they sparked a movement that has swept across the country. Four years later, more than 22 million Americans have gotten raises, and 10 million are on a path to earning $15 an hour.
That solidarity has extended across many of the lines that divide our country. Unions have stepped up to push for higher wages for non-union workers. Fast-food workers are mostly people-of-color, and mostly women, but over the past four years, they have stood together with mostly male airport and car-wash workers; with largely white communications and construction workers; even with freelancers and independent contractors, in their push to win legislation to keep them from getting stiffed.
The policies fast-food workers are winning also hold the potential to unite Americans across those lines, behind a common vision of economic fairness and opportunity. In New York City, fast-food workers—and now all workers—have won a path to $15 an hour by 2019. But they are still pushing for common-sense economic policies that make sense for all workers.
Next week, we will introduce legislation in the New York City Council—following San Francisco and Seattle—that would require fast-food employers to give their workers a stable schedule, two-weeks advance notice of their hours, and a path to a full-time job for part-time workers who want one.
These policies can extend beyond fast food. In her book, The Good Jobs Strategy, economist Zeynep Ton shows how some retail and service businesses, like Costco and QuikTrip, thrive by paying their workers decently, offering stable schedules, and providing good jobs, while improving operational efficiency and customer service. Those firms are beating out competitors who take the road.
The lesson of Ton’s book is clear: we can build an economy on good, stable jobs, even in traditionally low-wage sectors. It is good for the workers, good for their companies, and good for their communities.
Fast-food, retail, and service jobs don’t exist just in Brooklyn and San Francisco. Millions of white, working-class employees, in the upper Midwest and far beyond, would also love to have stable schedules and a path to full-time jobs at $15 per hour. You don’t get rich at $30,000 per year, but you can start to arrange and afford childcare, pay the rent, and take care of a family.
With funding for public pre-K programs, the kids of these workers can get a head start in school. And with investments in public universities, their kids can go to college, get even better jobs, and help support the innovation and economic growth that will help our country thrive.
Of course, none of those things—increasing the minimum wage, requiring employers to provide stable schedules, public pre-K, or affordable college—will be priorities of the Trump administration. But the workers leading today’s actions know we must keep pushing forward.
So when Donald Trump fails to bring back manufacturing jobs and restore a version of the 1950s to his voters, the Fight for $15 has something else to offer. Their courage, bold vision, solidarity, and policies of basic economic fairness help advance an America that offers genuine opportunity for workers who feel stuck amid a widening economic gap.
For today, that’s enough inspiration for me to get arrested. In the days ahead, I believe it can inspire the courage we need, not only to resist the harms of the Trump administration, but to build the more equal, more inclusive country we so urgently need.