Service Employees Join Forces to Strike for Minimum Wage Increase

By Kaidia Pickels, a Fall 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

On September 4, fast food workers from across the country were joined by home care workers in an unprecedented series of strikes in 150 cities. The protesters, led by the Fast Food Forward movement, were demanding the right to unionize as well as an increase in the minimum wage for service employees to $15 per hour.

The movement began in November 2012 with a similar strike in New York City. Since then, Fast Food Forward has organized several major demonstrations nationwide and created a large online presence using the hashtag #StrikeFastFood. This is the first time the movement has gained support from other workers in the service industry.

According to organizers, approximately 500 protesters were arrested. Among them was Rep. Gwen Moore, D. Wis., who wrote “Proud to support #MilwaukeeWorkers risking arrest in pursuit of a better future for their families!” on her official Twitter following her arrest.

In late July, more than 1,200 fast-food workers from around the country gathered in Addison, Ill. to plan the recent strikes. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), delivered the keynote speech in which she said that her organization – a union with two million diverse members – stands by the fast food workers’ fight.

“When we stick together we can raise wages, raise our communities, and raise America so we have an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice,” Henry said in a statement issued by SEIU on Labor Day.

Because of the disproportionately high poverty rates of people of color, women, and the LGBT and disability communities, raising the minimum wage for all service employees is crucial. As previous civil rights struggles have proven, communities can make amazing things happen when they support each other in solidarity to demand change – in this case, a fair wage. With service workers from different sectors joining the Fast Food Forward movement for the first time, could these protests mark the beginning of large-scale collaboration in the fight for an increased minimum wage?

In response to a failed Senate vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act in April, Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference, said in a statement that “[r]aising the wage is a popular idea with bipartisan support that would help to lift working families out of poverty and expand the economy for everyone.” To learn what you can do to take action for America’s lowest paid workers, visit The Leadership Conference’s minimum wage action center.

A vote on the Minimum Wage Fairness Act is expected in the Senate as soon as later this week.