On Labor Day workers in the Hawkeye State rallied for $15 an hour and a union.
The Service Employees Union (SEIU) and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are organizing Iowa workers in the Fight for $15 and preparing them for future battles in the class war being waged across the state. Earlier this year, a series of anti-worker laws enacted by the state was met with fierce opposition by workers.
Two Des Moines rallies took place early on Labor Day — one for fast food workers and the other for health care workers. The demonstrations were part of a national day of action in over 400 U.S. cities. Iowa CCI Executive Director Hugh Espey told WW it was “a great day” for holding corporate power accountable and showing community support for Iowa’s workers and their right to organize. (tinyurl.com/y7ukjf9b)
Fast food workers
The first demonstration was a strike at a Burger King. At 6 a.m., 42 fast food workers from Burger King, McDonald’s and Subway joined nearly 200 community allies in a solidarity demonstration.
The night before at 11 p.m., BK workers in Ankeny, Iowa, went on strike. The workers are not being paid overtime while being short-staffed and forced to work in a hot environment with poor air-conditioning. Shift manager Jake Laun told the Des Moines Register that workers deserve better wages, better bonuses and better working conditions. (Sept. 4)
Sonia Mae Sayers, who participated in the day of action, is a 54-year-old McDonald’s employee in Des Moines. Despite over 20 years’ experience in the industry, her hourly wage is only $8.50. In an op-ed in the Sept. 1 Des Moines Register, Sayers wrote: “We need to stand together and use our power in numbers to make sure that corporations and our politicians listen.” (tinyurl.com/y8zakjs8)
Although she receives health care through the state, Sayers noted that many co-workers “fall through the cracks” and “millions of underpaid workers” receive no health care whatsoever. “Together, with our allies, we have the power to push back on lawmakers and corporations who have stacked the deck in their favor. We have the power to ensure every person can live a healthy life and dignity on their job.”
Health care workers
Nearly 300 people rallied in solidarity with health care workers at the second demonstration at 8 a.m. Like many Midwest states, Iowa has seen a decrease in manufacturing while the health care industry has boomed.
According to the SEIU, Unity Point Health with over 8,000 employees and Mercy Medical Center with over 7,000 are the second and third largest private employers in the region. In 2015 the hospital industry in Des Moines made over $236 million in profits.
Health care workers are denied a living wage and adequate benefits despite the massive profits garnered by health care companies. The National Employment Law Project reports that while 1.3 million hospital jobs were added since 2011, 71 percent of those jobs pay less than $15 an hour.
SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry stated: “Hospitals are the biggest employers in many cities and generate enormous revenues. There is no excuse for them to keep wages so low that thousands of their nursing assistants, housekeepers, and dietary workers live in poverty.” (USA Today, Aug. 31)
Tacoma, Wash., hospital worker and SEIU Local 199 NW member Candy King said, “Some workers have to work one or two extra jobs in order to make ends meet because their wages are so low. That is really shameful and terrible for both the workers and the patients they care for.” (SEIU press release)
The struggle must continue
The term “living wage” is not hyperbole. A 2016 report in the American Journal of Public Health found that “a $15 minimum wage could have prevented 2,800-5,500 premature deaths between 2008 and 2012” in New York City alone. The study concluded, “Most of these avertable deaths would be realized in lower-income communities, in which residents are predominantly people of color.” (May 6, 2016)
Iowa’s $7.25 minimum wage is less than half a proper living wage. The struggle continues!