Opinon: Why workers celebrate May Day 2015

Recently, thousands of workers all over the country took to the streets demanding a hike in the minimum wage to $15/hour. Our Fight for $15 campaign highlighted the income inequality that has made the gap between the haves and have-nots as wide as the Grand Canyon. It also underscored its moral and practical pitfalls and spurred some in Congress to act.

Still, the ever widening gap between an average worker’s wages and a CEO’s seven figure salary is only one of many reasons union members and our allies will take to New York City streets for a May Day March and Rally.

On May 1, we will be joined by a coalition of fast food workers, taxi drivers, homecare, retail, transit and constructions workers, as well as community, social justice and immigrant rights groups because the Fight for $15 campaign is only the tip of the iceberg.

Our coalition – The Coalition for Real Jobs, Real Wages and Real Rights – supports, not only a minimum wage hike, but pay parity for women, the right of all workers to join unions, immigrants’ rights and a path to citizenship, affordable housing, good public education, policies that show that Black and Minority lives matter, and a host of other issues that impact both us and the communities they live in and serve.

From May 1, 1886 when it was first organized, May Day, has highlighted those issues that make the difference between a job that is demeaning and one that has dignity, a job that protects a workers’ health and safety and one that endangers our lives, and a job that uplifts workers and their families and one that grinds them up and spits them out.

What kind of employer closes retail stores in order to lay off thousands who want decent wages and dignity? What kind of employer ignores unsafe working conditions that endanger workers’ lives while constructing buildings that will reap them billions in profits? What kind of employer undermines taxi drivers who play by the rules by granting licenses to others who don’t? And, what kind of employer seeks to destroy jobs that provide safety-net services needed by millions?

May Day has always been about workers standing up for their rights. This May Day will be no different.

On this Friday, May 1, workers will gather in front of the Park Avenue home of one of the owners of our most egregious employers – Walmart billionaire Alice Walton — to call attention to that corporation’s unfair treatment of workers. Workers from a California Walmart will represent 2,200 of their brothers and sisters whose attempts to unionize were halted when Walmart closed 9 stores claiming “plumbing issues.”

They will not be alone. Joining them will be RWDSU car wash workers whose four-month strike recently won a new contract, wage hikes and stronger worker protections. Also, joining them are members of CWA1180 who recently won back pay thanks to a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that Black and Latina women supervisors deserve to be paid the same as their male counterparts.

Together, they will march side by side with TWU and ATU bus operators who are being unfairly excluded from the protections of the Vision Zero law and are being arrested on the spot for issues stemming from faulty equipment and employer-directed left turns in crosswalks.

On May Day, we will march side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder celebrating the solidarity that makes us all stronger together.

Bhairavi Desai is the president New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Edgar Romney, secretary-treasurer Workers United, SEIU

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