In the struggle for workers' rights
Nothing meaningful is won without struggle. The workers who fought for the 8-hour work day (and weekends, too), to escape backbreaking weeks that averaged 100 hours on the factory floor or construction site in the late 19th century, knew that as well as anyone. "Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will" seems like such a fundamental demand, but they faced violent retaliation.
This Labor Day, I’m thinking of them -- and reflecting on the struggles ahead to ensure that all workers will have access to the rights and protections that they won.
Today’s gig-economy companies have restructured working relationships, building business models based on evading their obligations to workers. Gig-workers routinely work 100-hour work weeks, with no overtime, at subminimum wages. Wages are stagnant and middle-class jobs are vanishing, leaving growing numbers of low-wage workers living paycheck to paycheck, more vulnerable than ever.
As long-time NYT labor journalist Steven Greenhouse chronicles in a new book out this month, unions are at their weakest in decades and the gap between workers and corporate owners is wider than it’s ever been. As Greenhouse pointed out at an event at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn earlier this month, the diminished power of unions and workers has skewed American politics, helping give billionaires and corporations inordinate sway over America’s politics and policymaking.
Still, despite this reality, courageous workers are organizing today, just as they did a century ago. I’m proud to be their ally, on the picket line (since last Labor Day, I’ve joined striking or protesting workers at McDonalds, Chipotle, Zara, Uber, Lyft, and Amazon), and in pioneering new legislation to extend worker protections here in New York City. Together, we’ve won a minimum wage for drivers of for-hire vehicles, guaranteeing that Uber and Lyft drivers will be paid at least $17 an hour. We passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act -- which has helped freelance workers recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost wages.
And we’ve helped fast food workers win a $15 minimum wage, a stable work-week, two weeks advance notice of their schedule, and a pathway to full-time jobs. The brave, creative, inspiring fast food workers in the #Fightfor15 have set off a movement that has raised the minimum wage for tens of millions of workers across the country.
Now, we’re working with them on the next big step. Fast food workers are among the most vulnerable workers in our economy. 65% of those who lost their jobs were fired without any reason.
That’s why, along with SEIU 32BJ and many individual fast food workers, I’m fighting to pass groundbreaking legislation in the City Council to protect fast food workers from being fired without a good reason (or any reason at all). Sign the petition to prevent firings without just cause here.
If workers can be fired for no reason at all, it’s much harder for them to speak up when they face sexual harassment or when a manager treats them abusively. And, of course, it’s much harder for them to organize for change.
When workers organized to demand the 8-hour day, many lost their jobs. But they kept pushing, and a powerful movement gathered behind them. We can help do the same for today’s fast food workers.
P.S. Looking for another good way to observe Labor Day (which, admittedly, can often feel hollow and disconnected from its worker organizing roots)? Consider contributing to one of the progressive unions, workers centers, or community organizations who are pioneering new campaigns and doing the hard work of organizing. Groups like Make the Road New York, New York Taxi Workers Alliance,National Domestic Workers Alliance, Workers Justice Project, El Centro NYC, and many more are waging the next generation of labor struggles, and building the next generation of labor leaders.