By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
Workers in airports, fast-food restaurants, healthcare and the educational sector are planning the biggest protest in the nation’s history on Nov. 29th when they will walk off their jobs.
The announcement came Nov. 21 during a nationwide teleconference sponsored by the “Fight for $15” movement. Those participating in the day of protest say efforts to block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants, or support racism or racist policies, will be met with unrelenting opposition.
Hundreds of subcontracted baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, the world’s fourth busiest, will strike Nov. 29 to protest against unfair labor practices.
Some airlines like Delta, use subcontracted baggage handlers, who make less than $10 an hour with little or no benefits. Those workers cite retaliation, intimidation, threats and harassment by their employers when they attempt to join together to demand at least $15 per hour and union rights, said Kendall Fells, Organizing Director for “Fight for $15.” In contrast, baggage handlers at United, who recently got a raise, have a strong union and receive benefits when they become full time employees after a probation period.
“Today’s low-wage airport jobs look aa lot like those at McDonald’s, or those in the home care or childcare fields, or even in our factories and universities,” said Oliwia Pac, 24, a wheelchair attendant, security officer and escort for minors at O’Hare. “This needs to change and we are going to keep joining together and speaking out until it does.”
Fells said while the workers at O’Hare will go on strike, workers at other airports will walk out as a sign of support for the day of protest. It is not yet known how the strike will affect travelers at O’Hare, especially during the busiest travel time of the year. A spokesperson for the airport said they have been made aware of the planned work stoppage and are putting together a contingency plan to ensure the safety of everyone at the airport.
The election of Donald Trump to the presidency earlier this month has sent a panic through working class Americans as many people are uncertain what a Trump administration will mean for the nation. The President-Elect’s divisive rhetoric during the campaign and his early cabinet appointments are not sitting well with many Americans, as protests against Trump continue around the country. With the costs for child care, education and other vital services for parents skyrocketing, those at the bottom of the wage earning scale are bracing for the worst.
“Americans are united around our desire for a better future for our kids and an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top,” said Betty Douglas, a McDonald’s worker from St. Louis, Mo. who is paid $7.90 an hour after eight years on the job. “We are also protesting to reject the politics of divisiveness that tears America apart by race, religion, ethnicity and gender. And we won’t back down until the economy is fixed for all workers and we win justice for all people in our nation.”
Even those who work in the field of higher education say they are not being paid appropriately for the work they do. Scott Barish is a graduate assistant at one of the most prestigious and costly universities in the country, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. But despite the prestige of working at Duke, Barish said he is often disrespected on his job by colleagues, something he feels is directly related to his pay.
“After the recent election, I’m more resolved than ever to stand up for people from all walks of life,” said Barish, a researcher and teacher’s assistant in the Biology Department at Duke. “When I first started working at Duke, I was shocked to discover that graduate assistants like me were treated as though our work was not valuable even though we lead teaching and researching throughout the University. In my teaching role I help mentor students and lead class discussions. I also help write grant proposals that bring in millions for the University. Despite this work, the University does not respect us as they do professors and does not pay us enough to meet the rising cost of living.”
Those involved in the “Fight for $15” movement say despite the election of Trump, they believe most Americans are against his policies and are on the side of the American worker.
Fells noted that on Election Day, in four states and one city where the issue to raise the minimum wage was on the ballot, passed in all five places. He said in the states of California and New York, along with cities like Seattle, they understand the necessity to raise the minimum wage.
He added McDonald’s will be on the hot seat during the day of protest on the international level as a hearing will take place in England regarding the company’s practices in employee treatment. “Just because the election went a certain way does not mean we are going to go away,” Fells said. “It has only strengthened our resolve.”