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SEIU picnic rallies troops in fight for fair wages, ballot question supporting paid sick days

Nate Homan | 8/20/2014, 11:53 a.m.
SEIU organizers are engaged in the Fight for $15, a national campaign to raise wages of workers in the fast ...
Activists and elected officials gathered on Carson Beach under the banner ‘Fight For $15 Fight For Dignity.’ Protests, marches, demonstrations and voter registration events are in the works as the election season heats up.

A beachside barbeque on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon may not look like the backdrop for battle preparations, but the banner hanging on the pavilion at Carson Beach said it all: Fight For $15, Fight For Dignity.

Usually, this annual cookout in Dorchester is a community gathering for friends and families hoping to enjoy free food and to have a chance to get a hold of free health information courtesy of 1199SEIU, the largest union of health care workers in the Commonwealth, health care providers and nonprofit organizations.

This year, the Wage Action Coalition joined the community health providers. Advocates armed with clipboards and pamphlets collected signatures and handed out flyers for impending marches and protests. They are working on building momentum heading into the November election, gathering the support of local low wage earners for the Question 4 ballot initiative that will require employers in certain fields to provide paid sick days.

The labor activists are gathering support for their Fight For $15 campaign, part of a nationwide push for higher wages and union membership for adjunct professors, fast food workers, retail, home care, transportation and airport workers.

“The state went a long way in lifting the minimum wage to $11. There was a large coalition that worked on it and we were pleased to see that,” Veronica Turner, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU said. “But it’s not a living wage. And so we’re saying people should have the option to make a living wage and the option to form a union.”

Turner said that union homecare and personal care attendants earn $13.30 an hour, compared to the nonunion workers who earn $9 or $10.

“You’re doing God’s work in taking care of someone who is the most vulnerable and in need,” Turner said. “These agencies make money, but they don’t pass any on to their workers.”

Critics of the $15 hourly wage say the increase would lead to a hike in the cost of living. But former city councilor and current candidate for Register of Probate and Family Court Felix D. Arroyo said this was a flawed approach to labor.

“A higher minimum wage means people will spend more money in their community,” Arroyo said. “It’s that simple. They have the support of people like (U.S. Sen.) Elizabeth Warren and a lot of other local politicians in seeing a wage increase. At the state level, there’s no reason why we cannot get this accomplished. If they are friends of laborers, they should show it by voting for it. It would benefit everyone.”

On May 24, 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to raise that city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is currently the highest minimum wage in the country. This vote, with the support of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, came at the dismay of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association, two Washington, D.C. lobbyist powerhouses.

“There’s been a major conversation here in Boston and across the country about wage inequality, Spokesperson for 1199SEIU Jeff Hall said. “1199 is proud to be part of the Wage Action Coalition, which includes labor groups, community groups and religious groups all trying to raise awareness about the challenges that wage inequality and corporate greed present to our neighbors.”

Hall said that despite positive numbers in public polling on the question of a minimum wage increase and paid sick time, corporate lobbyists are adamant in derailing the initiative in the name of greed.

“It’s a very popular initiative and corporate lobbyists are having a hard time making a case against it,” Hall said. “The community, the workers, the voters and elected leaders have all expressed support for this measurement. We are out to celebrate the growing low-wage workers movement in this country.”

Wage Action has several marches, rallies and protests in the works around Boston, starting with the Protest Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale event on Wednesday, August 27 at 1 Washington Street. The Greater Boston Labor Council is hosting a breakfast followed by a demonstration in downtown Boston on Labor Day, Monday, September 1. The next day, the advocates will take to social media to host the Online Day of Digital #WageAction. The final march will take place on September 4, called All Out for Low-Wage Worker Mobilization at Park Street Station.

Voters will vote on four ballot questions, along with constitutional offices, state representatives and senators and county offices November 4.