The First Big Win for the $15 Movement

by: Posted on: November 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: The first big win for the $15 movement has happened before many thought it was possible. We speak with Sage Wilson, a spokeswoman for Working Washington—just days after workers at SeaTac airport won a $15 minimum wage—about how opportunities are seized and realties shaped.


Simon Davis-Cohen: Working Washington is at the center of two new efforts to improve the lives of working people in Washington State. Can you give a brief timeline of the SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative and Seattle’s fast food strikes?

Sage Wilson: The SeaTac Good Jobs Initiative came after several years of organizing efforts by workers and community members in and around the airport that drew increasing support and attention. Signatures for the Good Jobs Initiative were gathered this summer and of course, it went to the ballot in November. It will go into effect on January 1, 2014, lifting up more than 6,000 SeaTac workers and their families.

The first Seattle fast food strike was May 30, 2013. Less than 6 months and many actions later, there’s a growing consensus — including among essentially every serious candidate for local office — that we need to move towards a $15 minimum wage. It’s incredible how far the debate has been moved by the hundreds of fast food workers who took the bold step of walking out of work to demand a better future. And we’re not going to stop moving until we make those promises and that consensus into a reality.

SDC: What are the workers’ grievances and demands, in both cases respectively?

SW: The key issues are much the same for low-wage workers: people want jobs that pay enough so they can afford the basics — rent, food, repairs — and maybe even have a little left over to save for the future or help out someone in need. The economy is broken when big companies can make huge profits while millions of workers are left in poverty — that’s the key issue across all kinds of different industries.

There are also wage theft issues and health & safety concerns in both fast food and in SeaTac (though they manifest differently if you’re pumping jet fuel or pouring hot oil), but what’s at the center of both efforts is the crisis of income inequality. We can’t build a sustainable economy when the fastest-growing jobs pay poverty wages. And workers in fast food and the airport are joining with community supporters and doing something about it.

SDC: In both cases, what was the spark that ignited these efforts?

SW: There’s so much long organizing work involved it’s hard to look back and say what really set it off, and it’s maybe even wrong to draw too much from those kinds of historically contingent chains of events. But it seems clear that both movements are sparking each other into higher levels of ignition: the fast food movement helped spark a mass public debate that set the stage for the SeaTac initiative drawing so much attention and support. And now that the SeaTac initiative has marked the first big win for the $15 movement, it’s sparking a new sense that yes, it *is* possible to shift the economy in the direction of workers. (Note that there are airport fast food workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s who will be covered by the new $15 wage in SeaTac.) These victories here and elsewhere are building on each other, and sparking a truly national movement for good jobs and living wages.

SDC: How were the latent organizing periods of the two efforts similar to and different from one another?

SW: For a movement to take off, I think there needs to be both a crisis and a sense of possibility. The crisis of income inequality has been increasingly apparent at least since the economic crash, but history shows that it takes more than bad conditions to create a movement. The fast food strikes helped create that sense of possibility (and the victory in SeaTac is adding to it), but I think it owes a bit to Occupy as well. Occupy dramatically called the question on income inequality — and ignited a national conversation — in a way that honestly didn’t seem possible until it had already happened. Perceptions shifted, expectations changed, and that’s made a world a difference.

SDC: In what ways are either or both of these efforts confronting the body of law that strips workers of their constitutional rights when they enter the work place?

SW: Labor law is broken — for just one example, there are more workers in our country who are barred from joining unions because of their job status then there are workers who are *in* unions. Our existing labor laws come from a different economic era. Both the SeaTac and fast food efforts come in part from the sense that we need to develop new tactics and new forms of organization to meet these legal and economic challenges and continue to move forwards towards a better future for workers.


Photo: Working Washington


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Articles On Community Rights

Community Rights: