In 2012, Alvin Major was earning the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour when he went on strike at his KFC restaurant in New York City. Four years later, he’s earning $10.50 per hour, a 45 percent increase. But Major isn’t done striking.
“I’m feeling proud for the work we’ve done,” said the 51-year-old Guyana native. “But our fight has to keep going on. We won’t stop until we’ve won what we deserve.”
Major’s bigger paycheck is evidence of the victories notched by the “Fight for $15,” a union-backed worker campaign that turns 4 years old this week. But for Major, it’s also a sign of the work that remains. With four children, including two in state college, he still needs food stamps, and he has nothing left in his bank account at the end of the month.
“I’ve got to be making choices: putting food on table, paying the bills and paying rent,” he said.
On Tuesday, Major was joined by workers from around the country in the latest Fight for $15 strike. Protests hit dozens of cities to mark the anniversary, and images of workers and their allies being arrested for civil disobedience popped up on Twitter throughout the day. Dozens were arrested blocking traffic in Detroit, Manhattan and Chicago.
The Fight for $15 campaign began in 2012 with fast-food employees like Major but now includes day-care workers, airport baggage handlers and even some Uber drivers. The high-profile protests have helped drive minimum wage increases in cities and states around the country, including an aggressive one in New York that has boosted Major’s pay.
But four years on, the endgame for the Fight for $15 is still no clearer. The campaign aims to win workers not only $15 per hour but also union representation. The fast-food industry remains union-free. The Service Employees International Union, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into the campaign, has not attempted to unionize individual restaurants. It would much rather unionize fast-food workers en masse, which would require regulatory changes, or pressure industry giants like McDonald’s into implementing its own major wage increases.
The campaign shouldn’t expect any help from Washington under a Donald Trump administration. The National Labor Relations Board, which has refereed the workers’ disputes during the Fight for $15, will become a Republican majority much likelier to side with businesses. Regulators probably won’t be as receptive to workers’ arguments that the major fast-food chains are “joint employers” alongside franchisees. And the likelihood of a federal minimum wage hike has become even dimmer with Republicans controlling both the legislative and executive branches.
President Barack Obama has been a public supporter of the Fight for $15, as has Hillary Clinton, who was likely to continue Obama’s policies on the labor front had she defeated Trump in the presidential race.