On the picket line

Hundreds of fast food workers strike in Detroit

Hundreds of workers went on strike May 10 at more than 60 fast food restaurants in Detroit, demanding the right to form a union and a wage increase to a minimum of $15 an hour. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, Dollar Tree, Little Caesar’s, Domino’s, Long John Silver’s and Popeyes were shut down all over the city. In fact, dailykoz.com reported that after one McDonald’s called in replacement workers, some of them joined the picket line! It’s said that this may be the largest fast food strike to date, surpassing walkouts in New York City on May Day and earlier this month in St. Louis. Pastor W. J. Rideout III, a leader in Detroit’s Good Jobs Now coalition, pointed out that most of the 50,000-plus fast food workers in Detroit who earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour do not even work a 40-hour week. Hired on a part-time basis, many workers get between 15 and 20 hours a week, and, Rideout noted, “That’s barely enough to pay a cellphone bill.” (aflcio.org/blog, May 10) To support the workers’ just demands, sign the petition at detroit15.org.

In a related move, on May 8 in Washington, D.C., low-wage workers from across the country employed under federal contracts, loans and leases joined faith leaders and community groups to launch Good Jobs Nation. The new organization of low-wage workers is organizing for a living wage and a voice on the job. (Union City, online newsletter of Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, May 9)

NYC sick-day pay bill passed

New York City’s paid sick day bill, passed by the City Council 45 to 3 on May 8, can’t be overturned, even if billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoes it. After a contentious battle that began in 2010, the compromise measure will go into effect April 1, 2014. From then until Oct. 1, 2015, only businesses with at least 20 employees will be required to provide five paid sick days. After that, businesses with at least 15 employees will be included, though manufacturing firms will be exempt. Workers in smaller businesses will be able to take sick days — unpaid — without risking loss of their jobs. However, the mandate will be postponed if the city’s economy worsens, based on a Federal Reserve index. Nancy Rankin of the Community Service Society told the May 9 New York Times: “We will continue to push for coverage of all size employers to create a level-playing field, but this new law is a huge step.”

Georgetown part-time faculty vote union

Part-time faculty at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., voted overwhelmingly on May 3 to join Service Employees Local 500. These workers, called adjuncts, increasingly carry a heavy teaching load as universities shift away from hiring tenured professors. “But the ways adjuncts are viewed and treated has not changed to reflect this reality,” Kurt Brandhorst, a Georgetown adjunct, told Union City. “This victory will help improve conditions at Georgetown, but because we are joining adjuncts at other institutions across the region, the implications go far beyond Georgetown.” SEIU Local 500 will now represent more than three-fourths of the adjunct work force at colleges in the District of Columbia. (May 7)

Austin taxi drivers join AFL-CIO

After joining the AFL-CIO in 2011, with founding locals in New York City and Philadelphia, the National Taxi Workers Alliance granted its first local chapter charter on April 30 to the Taxi Drivers Association in Austin (Texas). TDAA says drivers often work up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week, with no job security, and earn less than the minimum wage on many days. On top of that, taxi owners continually increase lease fees that further deplete drivers’ earnings. A 52-page report posted on austintaxidriver.org details why the workers need union representation. For instance, drivers are not covered by workers’ comp or disability and have no insurance protection in case of accidents. Merga Gemada, vice president of TDAA, noted that the affiliation launches “TDAA’s campaign for economic rights and dignity, in which drivers are demanding greater job security and a safety net against their precarious working conditions.” (aflcio.org/blog, April 30)