Living with uncertainty, graduate workers kick off series of actions
ST. LOUIS – With only 23 days until graduation, Washington University graduate workers, students, faculty and community allies rallied at the University’s 2018 Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner on Wednesday, April 25. The rally, which is part of a series of planned events leading up to graduation, raised awareness of issues facing the entire Washington University community — and specifically graduate workers, who are students at the University.
While the administration reached out to graduate workers just before the rally to announce guaranteed funding for summer work, nothing is guaranteed and graduate workers request to sit down with administration to discuss specific implementation.
“I am joining together with my colleagues to join in the fight for better funding because of the outsized impact that our inconsistent pay has on international graduate students like myself,” said Augusto Medeiros, PhD Candidate, Physics. “As international students, we are completely reliant on the university to support us because our F1 visas do not permit us to work outside the university. Because of this, international students face the possibility of being forced to return home, pause our research, and face undue hardship simply because our nationality.”
With summer looming, graduate workers are not yet guaranteed they will be paid for work done during those months. Graduate workers cannot afford to go another summer living without pay while still being expected to work and produce research for the university.
“WashU refuses to guarantee pay over the summer even though our research doesn’t stop in June and July; when they do come through with payment, it’s not enough to live on,” said JB Duck-Mayr, a graduate worker in the Political Science department. “That means throughout the year I have to work extra hourly gigs to make sure I can support my family, which takes away time from my research, my students, and my children. A university with $12 Billion in assets should be able to guarantee a living wage to its workers twelve months of the year. WashU administrators have refused to meet with us about these issues, so that’s why I’m protesting with WUGWU to make our voices heard by the university administration.”
This uncertain future is why graduate workers and their supporters are standing up to build power on campus and resistance through events over the next several weeks, including this rally.
“I am taking action to guarantee summer funding and dignified funding year round for grad workers because it is wrong that I make less than $900 a month and receive no pay during the summer at a $12 billion university,” said Sarah Crosley, a teaching assistant in Classics. “I have made more money working as a kindergarten teacher reading books to toddlers in the summer than I do teaching undergrads who pay $50,000 a year to attend WashU.”
Graduate workers, along with their supporters in SEIU Local 1 and the wider community, will continue to fight for power at work and on campus and look forward to making meaningful improvements at Washington University. SEIU Local 1 has been working with graduate workers, college and university professors throughout the Midwest to give them a voice on the job; address the low compensation for their work; and to ensure greater benefits and job security.
KANSAS CITY– Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 carpenters, painters, mechanics, plumbers, ride control technicians and electricians at Worlds of Fun overwhelmingly ratified a strong new contract that guarantees good annual raises, better benefits and more job security. The new agreement ensures that the people who work hard to keep Worlds of Fun running every day can support their families and build stronger communities.
“I’m really proud of the contract we were able to win through these negotiations,” said SEIU Local 1 Painter Martin Maudlin. “We all participated to bring this great agreement home. Together, we stood strong and won the better wages and job security we need to help support our families.”
More than 60 working people will be covered under this new contract. The three-year agreement will expire in 2021.
ST. LOUIS – The following is a statement from Dominique Curry, a Centaur Building Services janitor at Express Scripts, in response to the Fortune 500 company’s fourth quarter and full year results released today. While Express Scripts pulled in $4.5 billion in 2017, the contracted janitors who clean its facilities are struggling to make ends meet:
“Express Scripts is a Fortune 500 healthcare company, but the janitors like me who work hard to clean it every day are barely scraping by on low wages and bare-bones health coverage.
“Express Scripts has received millions of dollars in taxpayer incentives and raked in billions in 2017. Meanwhile, we’re struggling just to put food on the table for our kids and to pay the bills.
“It’s time Express Scripts follow through on its commitment to the working people of North St. Louis County by creating good jobs that give us the opportunity to support our families. Doing so will raise standards for all working people and make our region better for everyone.”
KANSAS CITY – The following is a statement from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 janitor Sandy Hinson in response to Governor Eric Greitens’ State of the State address. Hinson was a leader in the fight to raise Kansas City’s minimum wage for working families, which passed via petition initiative with 69 percent of the vote before being preempted by state law:
“Governor Greitens promised higher pay for Missouri’s working families. His administration has delivered the exact opposite.
“Governor Greitens has made it harder for working families to put food on the table. From lowering St. Louis’ minimum wage for 30,000 working people to taking away the right of Missouri voters to raise wages in cities across the state, he has shown nothing but contempt for those of us working hard to make ends meet.
“In 2018, the working people of Missouri will remind Governor Greitens who pays his salary by repealing Right to Work, raising Missouri’s minimum wage, and reforming our state’s broken campaign finance laws.”
After months of negotiations, Local 1 janitors at St. Louis Lambert International Airport ratified a strong new contract. The agreement guarantees annual wage increases, stronger health benefits, and a voice on the job that will help janitors working at Lambert provide for their families and strengthen their communities.
“By coming together on the job, Lambert janitors were able to win a brighter future,” said SEIU Local 1 Lambert Janitor Sherry Fabing. “This new contract will help me provide for my family and makes sure that working people have a voice in the future of our airport.”
Local 1 members ratified the contract amidst an ongoing discussion about the privatization of St. Louis Lambert. The agreement ensures the working people who keep Lambert running every day have a seat at the table regarding any future decision about governance of our city’s airport.
On Saturday, SEIU Local 1 custodians, food service workers, and maintenance mechanics at Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) unanimously ratified a strong new contract that guarantees good annual raises, better and more affordable health benefits, and important staffing language that facilitates stability at our schools! The new agreement ensures that the people who work hard to keep KCPS running every day have the tools they need to make sure our schools are healthy and clean for the KCPS community.
“A strong workforce makes for cleaner and healthier schools for students and teachers,” said SEIU Local 1 Food Service Worker Desiree Saunders, who has worked at KCPS for 12 years and whose children are KCPS alumni. “This new agreement lifts up the communities that need it most, strengthening neighborhoods across Kansas City.”
“Good jobs for working people means better schools for students, teachers and parents,” said SEIU Local 1 Custodian Remonia Mack, who has worked at KCPS for more than 20 years. “This agreement improves our entire district because the stronger our communities, the better we can support our neighborhood schools.”
More than 350 working people will be covered under this new contract and will enjoy a brighter future because of it.
SEIU Local 1 Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) custodians, food service workers, and maintenance mechanics are coming together on the job for a strong new contract, a brighter future, and safe and healthy schools for KCPS students and teachers!
Local 1 members are an important part of the KCPS community. Together, they help make sure the schools run every single day. They’re hitting the bargaining table again on Friday, November 3, to make sure KCPS understands the importance of their work.
Local 1 food service worker Desiree Saunders put it best. “We need to strengthen our workforce, because a stronger workforce means better schools for everyone,” she said. Stand with KCPS janitors, food service workers, and maintenance mechanics as they stand up for a brighter future and a stronger KCPS!
SEIU Missouri/Kansas State Council: “Justice Was Not Served” in Stockley Verdict
ST. LOUIS –The following is a statement from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Missouri/Kansas State Council President Nancy Cross and State Council Treasurer Lenny Jones:
“This morning, Judge Wilson acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley in the murder of Anthony Lamar Smith. Three years after the killing of Michael Brown sparked days-long protests, Judge Wilson shows that our region has still learned nothing from the sins of the past.
“We have a long way to go in winning racial justice in Missouri. As an organization dedicated to dismantling structural anti-black racism, SEIU recognizes that we cannot separate the fight for racial justice from economic justice.
“Justice was not served for Anthony Lamar Smith. Our prayers are with his family today. SEIU members will continue to fight back against police brutality and will not rest until real justice is attained.”
The Missouri Legislature and Gov. Eric Greitens’ heartless rollback of St. Louis’ $10/hour minimum wage took effect last month, but local elected officials, business owners and workers’ advocates are hoping to override state lawmakers at the ballot box.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger joined activists, workers and Democratic legislators on Aug. 28, the same day the state’s wage rollback legislation took effect, to rally support for a ballot initiative to implement a $12/hour minimum wage statewide — up from the current $7.70/hour – with voters having the final say.
Krewson and Stenger joined cooks, cashiers, janitors, nursing home workers, home health aides, city aldermen, faith leaders, small business owners and activists in a rally at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company in The Grove neighborhood to announce their plans to resist the state law – which Greitens allowed to take effect without his signature – nullifying St. Louis’ $10/hour minimum wage and blocking a voter approved increase in Kansas City.
“Raising the minimum wage is really about strengthening families,” Stenger said. “I come from a working family and I know that improving incomes across Missouri will help workers better care for their children and loved ones.”
RAISE UP MISSOURI
Stenger, Krewson, Columbia Mayor Brian Treece and Kansas City Mayor Sly James and other elected leaders have endorsed a grassroots effort led by Raise Up Missouri to collect the signatures required to place a statewide $12/hour minimum wage initiative on the Nov. 2018 ballot. If approved by voters, the measure would gradually raise the statewide minimum wage by 85 cents a year until it reaches $12/hour in 2023, impacting about 500,000 workers – or one in five Missourians.
Workers will need approximately 100,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.
“More money in workers’ pockets means more money in businesses’ pockets,” Krewson said. “That’s what drives the economy forward.”
Workers and their allies also vowed a renewed push to convince employers to raise – not lower – the pay for working people in St. Louis. So far, 135 St. Louis employers have taken the pledge to #SaveTheRaise and continue paying the $10 minimum wage in the city, despite the state’s heartless rollback.
“In this community, we know that working people’s wages should go up, not down,” said Rev. Jon Stratton of Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Louis. “That’s why 135 mom and pop shops in this city have already pledged to keep the $10 minimum wage. Now we’re going to join workers in protest of big corporations cutting pay, and work together to put a $12 statewide minimum wage on the ballot in 2018. We won’t be dragged down by politicians in Jefferson City. Instead, we’re going to raise up this city and this state.”
Low-wage workers, elected officials, faith leaders and St. Louis business owners joined forces to launch the #SavetheRaise campaign in June after Gov. Greitens allowed the law nullifying the St. Louis and Kansas City minimum wage to become law. Since the campaign’s launch, restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, pet stores and the Treasurer’s Office of the City of St. Louis all have joined in the effort, pledging to pay their employees $10 an hour or better.
“As a St. Louis-based company, the success of our business depends greatly on the growth of our city so raising wages for working families is important to us,” said Florian Kuplent, co-founder and brewmaster of Urban Chestnut.
“By investing in our people, we are investing in the revitalization of the St. Louis community, and that’s good for our business and ultimately for St. Louis.”
Despite the success of the #SaveTheRaise campaign, many workers at big chains like McDonald’s and local companies like Schnucks Markets received a pay cut Aug. 28.
Workers waged increasingly militant protests across the city as rollback neared.
St. Louis workers sat in and refused to leave two McDonald’s stores where workers had been told their pay would drop.
In Kansas City, workers held a “die-in,” laying down en masse at the doorstep of the offices of fast-food lobbyists at the Missouri Restaurant Association, which lobbied hard for the rollback of local wage hikes.
UNIONS ARE THE KEY
McDonald’s and other fast-food workers also held staged a protest in St. Louis on Labor Day, kicking off a massive protest campaign that included underpaid workers across the city’s service-sector economy seeking $15 an hour and union rights.
The St. Louis Labor Day protest was one of 300 across the country, as workers across America declared loudly that unions are the key to fixing an economy that is rigged to favor the wealthy.
Wanda Rogers, a McDonald’s worker and Fight for $15 member whose pay dropped to $7.70 an hour last week, said: “Eric Greitens and Jefferson City Republicans may be trying to cut our pay and rig the economy for big corporations, but we won’t back down or stop for one second in our fight.”
KANSAS CITY, MO.—Bill Thompson, 46, grew up believing in the American Dream. When he graduated from college in 1995 with an engineering degree, he assumed he would have no trouble covering his bills along with the middle-class niceties his father, a postal clerk and member of the American Postal Workers Union, was able to provide to his family growing up.
Thompson was hired by a local engineering firm out of college, but his training was soon rendered obsolete by new technologies and he lost his job. With $46,000 in student debt and two young children to support, he was in need of a job—any job. So, he turned to fast food.
Thompson made $8.50 an hour at his first job in the industry, working at a now defunct chain of buffets. That was 1997. Today, he makes $9.10 as a cook at a Burger King just outside the city limits.
“$9.10 an hour isn’t enough to pay my bills,” he says. “The last time I saw a doctor was when I was 15 years old. My teeth are rotting. I can’t see much anymore. I can’t afford the medical attention I need.”
When asked why he decided to join the movement to raise the minimum wage in Kansas City two years ago, Thompson kept it short. “I’m fighting for my life,” he said.
Yesterday, Thompson and thousands of his fellow low-wage workers in more than 400 cities nationwide went on a one-day strike. Their key demands remain straightforward: a raise and a union.
Five years into the Fight for $15, there’s a new objective in battleground states like Missouri: oust the politicians propagating local anti-union laws. The Service Employees International Union, which backs the Fight for $15, announced in August that it is launching a new campaign to unseat GOP governors and other elected officials who oppose minimum wage increases and union rights.
Kansas City has already won a wage increase once this year: In early August, 69 percent of voters backed a resolution raising the city’s minimum wage to $10 an hour on August 24, and $15 by 2022.
But that raise lasted for just four days. On August 28, a new state law took effect that effectively canceled Kansas City’s wage increase, as well as a similar measures in St. Louis. The law, passed in May by Missouri’s GOP-controlled state legislature, prohibits cities from raising their minimum wages above that of the state minimum of $7.70 an hour. The measure is one of dozens of so-called “pre-emption laws” that GOP-dominated state legislatures have passed in order to block blue cities from pursuing progressive measures like minimum wage hikes and paid sick days.
But labor is fighting on more than one front in Missouri, which in February became the 28th state to pass a so-called right to work law. The battle’s not over yet: In August, a coalition of labor groups, led by the Missouri AFL-CIO, submitted more than 300,000 signatures in an effort to put the anti-union measure up for a vote on the November 2018 ballot.
Immigrant workers, who make an average of $150 a week less than their citizen counterparts, marched yesterday with another threat on their minds: Donald Trump’s looming announcement that he plans to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a work permit program for unauthorized immigrants who arrived to the United States as children.
Maria*, a fast-food worker and unauthorized immigrant, was among those on strike yesterday. She has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years and currently makes $10.20 an hour at Burger King. (She is identified by a pseudonym because of the possibility of retaliation by immigration enforcement officials.) Her son, whom she brought to the U.S. when he was a toddler, has been granted DACA. Maria fears what might happen next. Though she has a great deal on her mind, she says, she wasn’t going to miss out on the day’s protest.
“I’ve been with the movement for three years now, and I’m going to keep fighting until we get what we deserve,” she says. “I’m not going to stop fighting because I am scared. It is this—my fellow workers, marching together, that reminds me that I am not alone, and that we can win.”