On Tax Day, Detroit Janitors Join Largest-Ever Mobilization of Underpaid

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 15, 2015

As Fast-Food Workers Strike in 200 Cities, Janitors, Adjunct Professors, Home Care, Child Care, Airport, Industrial Laundry and Walmart Workers Come Together in Coast-to-Coast Protests

DETROIT – Janitors in Detroit joined fast food, adjunct professors, home care, child care, airport, industrial laundry and Walmart workers in the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay.

Detroit once had strong, union jobs for janitors and its workers; jobs with decent wages and healthcare benefits.But now, outside investors are buying downtown real estate and pushing down wages and benefits.

“I used to make nearly $15 and a union,” stated Niya Reed, a Fisher Building janitor who was recently laid off. “Back then, I owned a car, paid my insurance, and raised my kids in a good neighborhood. But now, I’ve lost the car, I had to move my children to a more dangerous neighborhood, and I’m getting by on public assistance.”

Fast-food cooks and cashiers walked off their jobs Wednesday morning in cities from Pittsburgh to Pasadena, setting off a historic wave of protests for higher pay and the freedom to join unions that stretched across industries and around the globe and inspired college students and #BlackLivesMatter activists to join in.

The protests—the most widespread mobilization ever by U.S. workers seeking higher pay— came just days after Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president promising to confront America’s gaping inequality.

“Detroit needs good jobs. We built the American labor movement, and once boasted some of the highest stardards of living in the country,” said Reverend Charles Williams II, Senior Pastor, Historic King Solomon Baptist Church of Detroit and President of National Action Network – Michigan. “But now, minimum wage jobs with no benefits are dragging our economy down. The way to raise Detroit is to raise wages, so that residents can afford the items we need.”

Around the country, workers went on strike for the first time in Albany, NY; Asheville, NC; Greenville, MS; Montgomery, Ala.; and San Jose, Calif. The strikes, which started a day earlier in Boston out of deference to the April 15 anniversary of the marathon bombing, came two weeks after McDonald’s announced it was increasing salaries for a fraction of its workforce by $1. But rather than mollifying employees, the paltry pay move inspired even more workers to join the walkout. All across the country, McDonald’s workers joined strike lines, chanting, “Hey McDonald’s Let’s Be Blunt, Your Raise is Just a PR Stunt.”

In New York City, striking workers and supporters protested at every McDonald’s in Manhattan, while in Berkeley, Calif. Robert Reich, a former secretary of labor, spoke to striking workers at a McDonald’s.

Detroit Background

Detroit once thrived when working people joined with local business leaders to transform low-wage manufacturing jobs into middle-class jobs—jobs with benefits and a retirement. These jobs allowed workers to own homes and provide a good life for their families.

But now, even though hard work is generating billions in profits here in Detroit, powerful corporations are using their influence to push down wages and benefits here and across the country.That means hard-working people—including many workers rallying on April 15—are paid so little that they have to rely on public assistance just to provide the basics for their families.

Outside investors continue to come in and buy up more and more downtown real estate as part of our city’s revitalization, and hiring irresponsible contractors set on cutting costs to provide the cheapest rates.

The Fisher and Albert Khan Buildings once had strong, union jobs for janitors; jobs with decent wages and healthcare benefits.Contract Direct has replaced these experienced janitors with poverty-wage jobs, cutting wages by over 30% and getting rid of health benefits.

Workers are rallying on April 15 because they know that companies like Contract Direct can afford to support good jobs that boost our economy, lift our communities, and pave a better future for Detroit.

#FastFoodGlobal

Workers in 100 cities, from 40 countries, on six continents representing some 50 global unions also protested as the movement around the world for higher pay and better rights expanded. For the first time, workers outside the U.S. coordinated strikes with workers here, with fast-food workers across Italy waging a national strike. Workers occupied a McDonald’s in Glasgow, stormed McDonald’s restaurants in five Brazilian cities and blockaded a McDonald’s in Paris, holding a six-meter long sign that read, “Stop Social Destruction and Tax Avoidance.”

“The fast-food industry is dominated by a handful of multi-billion-dollar global companies, so we need to have a strong, global movement of workers pushing for better wages, better treatment and better rights,” said Massimo Frattini, the international coordinator of the International Union of Food workers, which is coordinating the global protests. “By coming together across borders, fast-food workers have an opportunity to transform the industry all over the world.”

The global protests come as McDonald’s is coming under increased scrutiny for both its treatment of workers and its questionable corporate citizenship around the world. In Brazil, a coalition of trade unions has filed two lawsuits accusing the company of widespread and systematic labor and health and safety violations. One of the suits accuses McDonald’s of “social dumping,” an anti-competitive practice that drives standards down for workers across the country, and seeks to prevent the company from opening new stores unless it complies with Brazilian law. Also, McDonald’s agent in Latin America and the Caribbean, Arcos Dorados, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, with an investor group asking the New York Stock Exchange to review the company’s corporate governance.

In Europe, McDonald’s is being accused by a coalition of trade unions and the UK-based NGO War on Want of avoiding more than €1 billion in taxes over the last five years. Last month, the European Commission’s Directorate of Competition launched a preliminary investigation to find out whether McDonald’s entered into an illegal deal with Luxembourg that allowed it to avoid taxes.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the federal government recently launched a case against McDonald’s, accusing the fast-food giant of rampant labor-law violations, and arguing that the corporate parent, and not just franchisees, are responsible for the illegal actions. This is all on top of suits alleging wage theft and racial discrimination in the US; more than two-dozen complaints filed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging McDonald’s workers are being burned on the job, with many told to use condiments like mustard to ease the pain; and the more than $1 billion in public assistance taxpayers spend to subsidize low wages here.

Tax Day

It isn’t just McDonald’s that is digging into taxpayers’ pockets. The tax day protests, held Wednesday both because the date, 4/15, is the workers’ demand and because they wanted to highlight the fact that they are paid so little that too many are forced to rely on public assistance to get by, came just days after researchers at the University of California-Berkeley released a report showing that persistent low wages are costing taxpayers nearly $153 billion every year in public support to working families.

In Connecticut, a proposal currently moving through the state legislature would fine large companies that pay low wages in an effort to recoup the cost these companies impose on taxpayers. Congressional Democrats’ Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal unveiled last month included a provision that would roll back tax breaks for large companies that fail to raise pay on pace with inflation.

Changing How America Thinks About Wages

What seemed two years ago like a far-fetched goal—$15 an hour—is now not so crazy. In February, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio called for an increase in New York City’s minimum wage to $15 by 2019. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union asked the Board of Education to pay $15 an hour to all workers in schools and in December, Chicago lawmakers voted to raise the minimum wage to $13. In Washington, workers won $15 in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers,” and in SeaTac, where local low-wage airport workers played a leading role in winning a historic wage increase.

And in November, San Francisco became the third city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage. Since the first fast-food strike in 2012, 9 million low-wage workers have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation, contract negotiations and employer policy changes—more workers than are in private sector unions in the entire country.

Slate said the Fight for $15, “managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages;” MSNBC said it, “entirely changed the politics of the country;” and Fortune said it, “transformed labor organizing from a process often centered on nickel-and-dime negotiations with a single employer into a social justice movement that transcends industry and geographic boundaries.

The urgent need for solutions to America’s low-wage crisis is already emerging as a key issue in the run-up to the 2016 election. In The New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote, “[a]s the 2016 presidential campaign begins to stir, the central question will be how both parties respond to the great wage slowdown.” And Democrats and leading economic experts are increasingly looking to restore Americans’ rights to form unions as a way to bring balance back to the economy and create jobs that enable more communities to thrive.

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