The New Union Organization is at the Ballot Box

Yesterday, a Facebook user Jens Rushing’s post about the minimum wage in of New York City being $15 per hour went viral and was shared over 40,000 times by other Facebook users and here is the text in full:

Fast food workers in NY just won a $15/hr wage.

I’m a paramedic. My job requires a broad set of skills: interpersonal, medical, and technical skills, as well as the crucial skill of performing under pressure. I often make decisions on my own, in seconds, under chaotic circumstances, that impact people’s health and lives. I make $15/hr.

And these burger flippers think they deserve as much as me?

Good for them.

Look, if any job is going to take up someone’s life, it deserves a living wage. If a job exists and you have to hire someone to do it, they deserve a living wage. End of story. There’s a lot of talk going around my workplace along the lines of, “These guys with no education and no skills think they deserve as much as us? Fuck those guys.” And elsewhere on FB: “I’m a licensed electrician, I make $13/hr, fuck these burger flippers.”

And that’s exactly what the bosses want! They want us fighting over who has the bigger pile of crumbs so we don’t realize they made off with almost the whole damn cake. Why are you angry about fast food workers making two bucks more an hour when your CEO makes four hundred TIMES what you do? It’s in the bosses’ interests to keep your anger directed downward, at the poor people who are just trying to get by, like you, rather than at the rich assholes who consume almost everything we produce and give next to nothing for it.

My company, as they’re so fond of telling us in boosterist emails, cleared 1.3 billion dollars last year. They expect guys supporting families on 26-27k/year to applaud that. And that’s to say nothing of the techs and janitors and cashiers and bed pushers who make even less than us, but are as absolutely crucial to making a hospital work as the fucking CEO or the neurosurgeons. Can they pay us more? Absolutely. But why would they? No one’s making them.

The workers in NY *made* them. They fought for and won a living wage. So how incredibly petty and counterproductive is it to fuss that their pile of crumbs is bigger than ours? Put that energy elsewhere. Organize. Fight. Win.

His post touched a nerve by saying corporate bosses – they would love nothing more for their workers to fight over the ‘crumbs’. In fact, as other low wage but high skills required workers are bitching and griping about burger flippers making $15 an hour, their CEOs are sitting comfortably in their office suite overlooking the Manhattan skyline somewhere laughing, smugly telling themselves that they knew this would happen, the guys making $13 an hour unclogging someone’s toilet in different city is going to get pissed that someone who flips burgers at McDonald’s is making more than they, and the little crumb fighters will fight against each other and this whole $15 per hour minimum wage social movement will quietly go away.

Well, not so fast. The ballot box is the new union. Since unions organizing and politics can be costly, prohibitive and counterproductive, the ballot box isn’t. Once an initiative or law is passed, it will get enacted and it has to be followed. Big corporations have big money and their tentacles are in everything that they believe will benefit them, but the few corporate million and billionaires are still outnumbered by the workers. Like Jens Rushing said, the New York City’s minimum wage was made because the workers made them by going to the ballot box.

There are several metropolitan areas where the $15 minimum wage has been adopted, Seattle, San Francisco and the City of Los Angeles will have minimum wage at $15 per hour within 5 years, with slow increment increases. Washington DC is the next big city considering minimum wage increase to $15 per hour, which will be voted on next year.

Depending on where you stand and what your politics are, this is either progressive’s ideal come true or a nightmares for businesses. In the case of fast food workers in New York City, McDonald’s and its ilk will not lose money over paying their workers a living wage, McDonald’s and other fast food companies are losing money and profit share due to their crappy food that is processed and sodium and chemical laden where they use the worst cuts of meats and poultry to make their chicken nuggets and big macs. You don’t even know what you are eating.

Also, the ‘burger flippers’ that people so derisively refer to, people who work at fast food joints no longer just flip burgers, they are cashiers, janitors, customer service reps, everything. The amount of wage theft in fast food chains is alarming. Supervisors or shift managers asks their employees to stay after closing to help clean up and it’s implied that if they do, they will be recommended for raise or promotion, but they rarely do and most importantly, they don’t get paid for the hours they work after the restaurant closes (can you call McDonald’s a restaurant? That’s almost insulting to a real restaurant), the same is true for retail stores. Those are all stolen wages and that is why Burger King reported a 37% profit last year. It’s not because their burgers are 37% healthier or better.

Huffington Post, an advocate of the living wage did a heartrending series called ‘All Work and No Pay’ about what it’s like to be the working poor, working, living and hiding in plain sight, and these are not just people who work in the fast food industry, these are people have been laid off in the Great Recession and was not able to get back to what their former wage was and they feel they may never get their old life back.

Wages are slowing inching back up, inflation rate is holding, unemployment rate is dropping but it’s not due to new jobs being created but people dropping out of the workforce altogether so they are not counted as ‘unemployed’ anymore. Big corporations, who are sitting on trillions in cash smelled the desperation of American workers, willing to take any job at any wage just to have a job so that they don’t go from being poor to being in abject poverty. And they took advantage of it, deliberately offering workers hours just below the number of hours required to give them health insurance benefits (Walmart is the worst offender of this tactic), making sure most of their staff are part time so that they are not entitled to benefits of full time staff like sick pay and other PTO. On top of not providing enough hours for their employees, they give them erratic and work schedules so that it makes it impossible for the employee to find a second job elsewhere to supplement his or her income. For some companies, if they find out that you are working part time elsewhere and your schedules coincide, that’s grounds for termination.

Since 2008 to now, big corporations have abused their employees enough, while they see corporate profits soar, their employee’s barely get a 0.25 per hour raise and are being nickeled and dimed for it. People in big metropolitan areas are organizing in big numbers at the ballot box. The idea of traditional union organization is obsolete. Union structures are too complicated and too costly and often don’t deliver the results necessary to its workers who dutifully pay their union dues. Also, when you work for a company that belongs to a union, many workers feel extreme pressure to join the union or else they are afraid that they will be retaliated against or be shut out of promotions and raises.

This is the first sign in many years that the tide is turning against big corporations and the hoarding of big corporate profits. I do not begrudge CEOs or ‘brain surgeons’ their compensation, far from it, I want to be the CEO of my own company one day, they work hard for their jobs just like the rest of us work hard for ours. What the people want is fairness and a living wage. Cost of living has consistently gone up for the last 30 years but real wages have hardly budged except for those on top.

The scaremongering for increase in minimum wage has begun long before any initiative or law has passed, but they mostly fell on deaf years. The supposed ‘fallout’ from the wage hike is minimal and negligible. In the case of McDonald’s, to pay its workers $15 per hour, they would have to increase the price of Big Macs by around 50 cents, which is negligible. Like the author of the post said:

Look, if any job is going to take up someone’s life, it deserves a living wage. If a job exists and you have to hire someone to do it, they deserve a living wage. End of story.

Even if it’s scrubbing toilets, someone’s got to do it, and if the CEO and his cronies aren’t going to come down and scrub toilets and is going to hire the high school dropout to do it, then the high school dropout deserves to have a living wage. End of Story.

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