Hard-hats and picket-signs flooded 42nd Street yesterday evening as thousands of workers and social activists from around the city gathered in solidarity to fight for better working conditions.
The demonstration came on the heels of last week’s Fast-Food Forward protest — where employees at different fast-food establishments across the city walked off of the job in order to demand higher wages, benefits and the right to unionize.
Fast-food strikers joined forces yesterday with other fed-up workers — in health-care, construction, security, service industries and other marginalized sectors — in order to let the rest of the city know that their plight will no longer be ignored.
“Like you fast-food workers, I make $8/hour, no benefits [and] no sick days. Like you Wal-Mart workers, we JFK Airport security officers are fed up too,” Prince Jackson, an employee of airport security company Air Serve, told the crowd. “We’re here today united because we are faced with the same challenge: ‘how do we make our country [and] our economy work for working people?”
Many politicians, including mayoral hopefuls Bill Thompson, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, joined the workers in a show of support.
“More and more we are living in a tale of two cities — one part of the city where everything’s okay, where things are working well,” De Blasio said. “[There’s] another part of the city where people are struggling just for a decent wage, just for decent benefits, just for job security, and that’s not the way this city should be.”
Thompson reminded workers that it’s really their hard work that allows the city to function.
“You make the city of New York go and run each and every day in the jobs that you do,” Thompson, former NYC comptroller, said. “If you don’t get paid a decent wage, if you can’t bring your family up in this city, if you can’t enjoy a little bit of what you put into New York City, it isn’t worthwhile and New York City isn’t the city that it can be.”
The workers appear to be energizing one another. After the unified protest, workers in different industries held separate demonstrations aimed at their respective employers.
Cablevision workers traveled up the block to picket outside of Time Square’s Hard Rock Café — where Cablevision CEO James Dolan was performing at his annual holiday concert with his band JD and The Straight Shot. (Yes, Dolan does have a band, and that is what it’s called unfortunately.) They were there to pressure him to come to an agreement with the union, which workers voted to join nearly a year ago.
A few hundred car wash workers and supporters headed down to Lage Car Wash in Lower-Manhattan, in a rally to get their boss, John Lage, to recognize the decision made by workers at two of his more than twenty car washes across the city to unionize.
“I feel energized by the fact that there are these campaigns happening all over the city,” Juan Carlos Rivera, a car-washer at Lage, told the Voice through a translator. “We’re already fighting, but it makes me feel that much more energized to keep fighting.”
The car wash workers recently voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were there, with social justice organization, Make the Road New York, to rally and tape a letter to Lage’s office door demanding that he negotiate a contract.
Workers at the car wash currently make $5.50/hour. Tips are supposed to bring the workers to the standard legal wage of $7.25/hour, but they often don’t, according to Rivera.
At the very least, workers are asking for the standard $7.25/hour minimum wage in addition to their earnings in tips, adequate safety equipment to protect them from constant exposure to harsh chemicals and respectful treatment from their managers.
Rivera said that once he and his fellow workers began to gain momentum in their movement, Lage personally came to him and upped his salary to $6/hour. Apparently, that was Lage’s way of offering Rivera “hush” money. But, Rivera, who has two children, said he won’t stop fighting — not when he has to live in constant fear he won’t make rent or be able to feed his kids.
“We’re here to support the workers, it’s all about the workers,” David Mertz, assistant to the president at RWDSU, said. “We want [Lage] to understand that we won’t go away until we get a contract that protects them and really helps them lead the kind of lives that they deserve.”