- Just one year ago, Sophia Garcia shut down the Subway restaurant where she was working, locked the door, and walked out on strike with a parade of other striking fast-food workers in Seattle.
But as we in Seattle watched this strike happen on Thursday, we also got to watch it from the perspective of a city that is addressing the strikers' demands head on, as city hall tries to pass real legislation guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage—a raise these fast-food workers, who have organized to demand it, will actually get at a faster rate than employees of smaller businesses. And this all got started here almost exactly a year ago.
Late on the night of May 29, 2013, a single Taco Bell worker walked off the job in Ballard, and begged her co-workers to follow. After a while, the other two late-shift workers shut down the restaurant, hanging up a sign that said they had to close "due to short staffing." In the morning, a similar thing happened at a Burger King in Lake City. Shutdowns rolled through the city all day. Their main strike demand? A $15 minimum wage.
Really, a year. That's all it took here—well, that and decade after decade of stagnant wage growth followed by a brutal recession.
In August 2013, before a second citywide fast-food strike, we interviewed politicians. What was their position on a $15 minimum wage? Mostly, it was silence. Mayor Mike McGinn was tentative; we hadn't yet heard from mayoral candidate Ed Murray. The only city council member who'd go on the record was Tim Burgess, and he said:
“I’m skeptical that raising the minimum wage at the city level is an appropriate course to follow… I would much rather see the minimum wage addressed at the federal or state level.”
On Thursday, Burgess, now council president, co-sponsored Seattle's $15 minimum wage bill in city council.
Council Member Kshama Sawant, who campaigned on $15, who picketed with striking fast-food workers, who put "$15" on her yard signs and whose devotion to this issue landed her a seat at city council and on the mayor's advisory committee on the minimum wage, was the only member not to co-sponsor the bill. She's holding out for an even stronger measure, though she's certainly left open the option of supporting this one.
A lot of people deserve credit for getting the $15 minimum wage from the streets to City Hall. Mayor Ed Murray, who made a campaign promise to tackle this issue first thing, and really followed through. Sawant, who pushed for it way before she had any political capital to spend—and then once she got some, spent virtually all of it on this. A lot of people behind the scenes at city hall who did policy work on this without ever expecting to see their names in the paper. City council, which invited fast-food workers into council chambers to discuss the issue. The labor organizers and organizations (and other activists) who reached out to fast food workers, printed up picket signs, supported strikers, brought media attention to the movement.
But most of all, a bunch of people who work for terrible wages, and who have little power in a world that strives to disempower them, decided to take enormous personal risk and walk off the job, walk in a picket line, sit in the street, even get arrested. Congratulations to them, though the fight's not over yet. The fact that this debate has happened at all is thanks to low-wage workers fighting back.
Originally posted on May 16, but moved up for your Sunday reading pleasure. —Eds