As the National Restaurant Association prepared for its annual lobbying days inside the Capitol this week, more than a thousand grassroots activists went to the Capitol on Monday to demand that the voice of workers and their demand for a fairer economy that works for everyone also be heard.
The march to the Capitol was organized by National People’s Action, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., addressed the marchers.
The march and visits to congressional offices were the capstone of a weekend designed to create, in the words of NPA director George Goehl, a “pro-equality populism” that would put pressure on Congress to bridge the gap between the richest Americans and the poorest.
“Together we are building a new economy, a just, sustainable economy that works for all of us, not just the few,” said Toby Chow of the IIRON (Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network) Student Network. “Our society has never been wealthier, but the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few. If we make corporations pay their fair share in taxes, we can easily afford to reinvest in education to build a 21st century social security net, to repair our roads and bridges, and create the clean infrastructure we need in a time of extreme climate change.”
A ROCU-affiliated restaurant worker who identified herself as Sandy said, “I am proud to be a restaurant worker, but i am not proud of our industry, which is dominated by trade organizations like the National Restaurant Association, the ‘other’ NRA. Because the NRA is so powerful, they have successfully lobbied to keep the tipped minimum wage at $2.13 an hour, which I cannot live on.”
Sandy noted that nearly 70 percent of tipped minimum wage workers are women, who are forced to use food stamps at nearly double the national average. “These women are some of you, or single moms, who rely on tipped wages to live, and you mean to tell me that the people who are working to put food on your table can’t put food on their table? [In this system], the consumer is expected to subsidize their wages.”
Barbara Young, an organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, described the situation of many domestic caregivers when she said, “As domestic workers, we do work that makes other work possible, but we don’t have the benefits that other workers enjoy. We need a living wage to provide for ourselves and our families, because after we spend our lives working for others, we do not have enough to care for ourselves.”
After calling on different groups of people at the rally to identify themselves, Rep. Ellison said, “America is out here today; we are going to come together from different parts, different perspectives, different ways of living to be united for justice in this land.”
Ellison pointed out that the Senate is about to vote on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 later this week, as well as vote on whether to extend tax breaks on major corporations that would result in an $80 billion loss in the tax base. He highlighted out the paradoxical claims of many businesses when they ask for tax breaks. “I’m going to tell you why they want the tax break, they always say it’s for jobs. They go to Congress in your name, and they say that they’ll kick it back to the workers. But they never kick back.”
He continued, “This economy is unfair and wrong, and it creates billionaires that aren’t just happy to buy the economy, but they try to buy politics as well.”
These Americans can see that a few at the top have captured the vast majority of the treasure, on the backs of workers who have done the work, through a framework that allows the elite to push through laws that benefit them to the detriment of the rest of us. The problem, as Ellison put it, is that too few Americans know this and are willing to stand up against this injustice.
Within the next two days, the Senate is expected to vote on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and to raise the minimum for tipped workers for the first time since the 1990s. Senate Republicans are poised to attempt to filibuster the bill. Today, call 202-517-2321, a number through which you will be connected to your senator’s office. Tell the senator that instead of listening to the National Restaurant Association lobbyists that they go out to dinner with, this time listen to the workers who serve them – and vote for an increase in the minimum wage in line with the priorities and needs of We, the People.