Minimum wage protesters hit streets of Detroit, demand $15/hour and civil rights
Feb. 12--Fast food workers, janitors and hospital workers walked off their jobs around noon Monday and rallied at Detroit's Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park to fight for a $15 minimum wage, the right to unionize and civil rights.
Local politicians, community activists, religious leaders and workers stood alongside one another holding up red "Fight for 15" signs, and speakers shared stories about making ends meet on minimum wage.
Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield stood with Service Employees International Union Local 1 at the rally. She led the crowd in call-and-answer chants: "No justice! No peace! ... No good paying jobs! No peace! ... Fight for 15? Yes! ... Overworked! Underpaid."
"I stand with you all today," Sheffield said. "Let me just say, as we look back at all of Black History Month, we have to remember how far we have come, but how much more work there needs to be done. There is no reason that people should have to work multiple jobs. Hardworking people. And let me just say, not lazy people. These are not lazy people. These are hardworking individuals that are working two or three jobs."
Sheffield told the crowd that they have a voice on the City Council and they should continue to come together.
"You guys continue to demand that we have a living wage. Corporations can afford it. You all deserve it," she said.
The protests were tied to the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker strike, and organizers said the event marked a renewal of the Poor People's Campaign led by Martin Luther King Jr. King was assassinated in April 1968 at an appearance in Memphis.
Antwan Williams, 29, who works at Captain Jay's Fish and Chicken while also studying business management at Wayne County Community College, was among the workers speaking up.
Williams told the Free Press he understands the trials and troubles the sanitation workers in Memphis went through 50 years ago, because he's going though some of the same troubles.
"Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King and a bunch of sanitation workers fought for equal rights and to be able to form a union, and ... now I'm here fighting for those same rights."
Working for $9.25 an hour, Williams said he'd like to get his own apartment but he can't on minimum wage.
"Our backgrounds should not be the reason why we can't have a comfortable living wage, because at the end of the day, the workers are what keeps a business thriving," he said.
"Instead of always just looking at dollars and cents, could we bring people's well-being into consideration?"
Williams said $15 and the right to unionize would mean the start of a better future for workers like himself.
"Fifteen dollars an hour is a comfortable living wage," he said. "With more money made there's more money to spend in the community, which makes an overall happier worker. The workers are happy and we do our jobs everyday diligently, but on the other hand, to be cherished a little extra is not too much to ask."
The demonstration in Detroit was one of several nationwide, including protests in Memphis, Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee and Des Moines.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar was also on site in support of the workers.
"I'm here to support SEIU for $15 because people need to live in dignity. When I grew up, I grew up in poverty and I worked as a janitor. I was not paid enough. If you work 40 hours, you should be able to live in dignity, take care of your family's education, take care of your family's health care needs," he said.
The rally was followed by a march and protest at a local McDonald's.
Some U.S. cities have increased their minimum wage. Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., (which has the highest minimum wage rate in the country at $12.50/hour) have passed legislation to increase rates to $15 by 2020. Seattle and San Francisco will also raise minimum wage to $15 over time, and Chicago will gradually hike up wages to $13.
In a statement made on Thursday to the Free Press, Michigan Restaurant Association President CEO Justin Winslow said:
"The restaurant industry is proud to be the industry of first opportunities and, for some, second chances. We are proud of the fact that one in three Americans have the restaurant industry to thank for their first job and that half of all adults have worked in the industry at some point in their lives.
"These protests, well-intentioned as they may be, only serve to limit these opportunities for the very people they are claiming to help. We now have strong, unbiased evidence from a University of Washington study in 2017 that Seattle's recent push for a $15 minimum wage unequivocally resulted in disemployment, unemployment and an aggregate loss of payroll for entry-level workers in the city."
Contact reporter Aleanna Siacon at ASiacon@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @AleannaSiacon