Thursday, December 3, 2015

Los Angeles Fight for 15 March

Erin Wigger, a member of The Center for Social Epidemiology team, joined in the recent downtown Los Angeles Fight for 15 march which was demanding a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. Several thousand people were in attendance, fast-food workers, home care workers, child care workers, union members, and organizers. Demonstrators gathered at a local McDonald's before making their way to City Hall. The march, part of a nationwide protest spanning 270 cities, was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), who's current efforts in Los Angeles are focused on organizing fast-food workers.

Erin spoke to several key organizers for Fight for 15, as well as one protester willing to share her story. Gloria Vergara, a home health care worker with 40 years of experience, recently lost her job when her elderly charge needed permanent hospitalization. She says she's been looking for work but has found few real prospects. Gloria states that she loves what she does and feels her work is meaningful and an absolute necessity for those she helps, but Gloria also spoke of the ceaseless pressures of taking care of another person 24/7, the often invisible and unpaid work she's required to do, not having enough time to do it, the out of pocket costs, having little to no job security and chronic stress. She says it "feels like slavery". Gloria and her niece Idianna (both pictured below), who is also a home health care worker, have both been studying to become certified nurses but are having trouble managing their time and the cost of studying. They agree that raising the minimum wage is a necessary beginning to the changes needed in their industry.

The call for a raise in the minimum wage (which is currently $7.25 an hour and has been unchanged since 2009) has been resounding louder and even made it into Tuesday night's GOP debate. The question, whether candidates were sympathetic to Fight for 15 protester's cause, was unequivocally rejected by all. Donald Trump went so far as to assert our "wages are too high."

Despite a lack of federal legislation, some progress has been made. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an order for public employees at the minimum wage to be paid $15 an hour by 2018, in Los Angeles the L.A. City Council and L.A. Board of Supervisors approved a law that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020, and Seattle voted last year to raise its minimum to $15 by 2017.