The first-ever nationwide Fight for $15 convention will be held next week in Richmond, Virginia. Low-wage workers will call attention to economic and racial justice issues, including "the enduring effects of slavery on black workers." Progress Illinois talked with a Chicago worker who plans to attend the two-day event.
Thousands of low-wage workers, including over 100 from Chicago, are heading to Richmond, Virginia next week for the first-ever nationwide Fight for $15 convention.
Fresh off the heels of the Democratic and Republican conventions, the Fight for $15 gathering is scheduled for August 12 and August 13.
The two-day event is an effort to mobilize the nearly 64 million U.S. workers who are paid less than $15 an hour and rally them around a plan to "win changes that create inclusive prosperity, starting with the 2016 election."
Andrea Meadors, a Chicago McDonald's worker and Fight for $15 leader, will be among the convention attendees.
"We have heard from the Democrats, the Republicans. We've heard from all of them" at the political party conventions, she said. "Now it's time for them to hear us."
"We just want to be able to feed our families," Meadors added. "They're able to go home and feed their families with no problem. They're able to make ends meet and go on vacations and do all these things, but we're not."
At the convention, Fight for $15 leaders will reiterate the nearly four-year-old movement's key demands: a $15 minimum wage and expanded union rights. The event's planners also seek to draw links between racial and economic justice issues as they gather at the capital of the old Confederacy. Convention attendees plan to "address the enduring effects of slavery on black workers."
Fight for $15 leaders point to research showing that over half of African-American workers and nearly 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15 an hour.
They are also calling attention to the minimum wage fights being waged in Alabama and Missouri, where predominately white legislatures recently adopted legislation blocking municipalities from enacting minimum wages higher than state levels. The state measures have preempted wage hikes for largely black workforces in Birmingham, Kansas City and St. Louis.
"The way we're going to move America forward is by breaking down the barriers that keep wages so low for black and Latino working people," SEIU* President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.
The union is a key supporter of the Fight for $15 campaign, which was spurred by striking New York City fast food workers back in November 2012.
"The people of the Fight for $15 movement know that we need to dismantle the legacy of slavery and segregation so we can create prosperity that includes us all," Henry added. "That's why we're standing together in Richmond."
The Fight for $15 convention will culminate with a march on Confederate monuments.
An endorsement of a presidential candidate is not expected at the convention. Low-wage workers will, however, press 2016 candidates at all levels to get behind their cause.
The Republican Party platform sidesteps the federal minimum wage issue: "Minimum wage is an issue that should be handled at the state and local level."
The Democratic Party platform, on the other hand, includes a commitment to a $15 federal minimum wage, stating that "the current minimum wage is a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage."
The Green Party is set to hold its 2016 convention this Thursday through Sunday. The party's platform from 2014 states, "All workers, temporary or permanent, must be paid a living wage," adding that, "We support the enactment of living wage laws that apply to all workers."
Past statements from the Green Party noted that the hourly minimum wage in 2013 needed to be over $16.50 in order to match productivity growth at that time.
The Libertarian Party, which supports small government and greater civil liberties protections, made this mention of wages in its platform: "Eminent domain, civil asset forfeiture, governmental limits on profits, governmental production mandates, and governmental controls on prices of goods and services (including wages, rents, and interest) are abridgements of such fundamental rights."
The Libertarian Party platform also addresses the issue of private-sector employment and compensation agreements. Such agreements, according to the platform, "are outside the scope of government, and these contracts should not be encumbered by government-mandated benefits or social engineering."
Although low-wage workers cheered the inclusion of a $15 minimum wage in the Democratic Party platform, they say they will continue "fighting until every underpaid worker in this country wins $15 and a union."
The Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP and architect of the Moral Monday movement, will be at next week's convention.
"We will not stop marching, stop striking, stop joining together until we win $15 an hour and union rights for all our sisters and brothers across the nation," he said in a letter posted on the Fight for $15 website.
"That is the radical message of love. Every person - no matter their faith, background, gender or sexual orientation - deserves to be able to feed their families and pay their rent. The power of love is the power of the Fight for $15."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.