Celebrating Worker Victories with an Eye towards the Future

Celebrating Worker Victories with an Eye towards the Future

Worker activist Dalia Catalan celebrates the raise in the minimum wage and paid sick days for DC workers.

Worker activist Dalia Catalan celebrates the raise in the minimum wage and paid sick days for DC workers.

This week, a jubilant group of D.C. workers, business owners and community supporters braved the searing summer heat to celebrate the first scheduled minimum wage increase to $9.50 per hour, and the District’s paid sick days law expansion to more workers at a press conference in front of Flava @ Wa-zo-bia Restaurant.

The new laws raise DC’s minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2016 and tie increases after that to the cost of living. The new paid sick days legislation closed loopholes in the previous earned sick leave law so that restaurant workers are included and all workers can use accrued sick leave after 90 days on the job.  These accomplishments kept the mood of the dozens of supporters a heartening mix of celebratory and determined despite the heat.

Jacqueline McFadden, a UFCW local 400 union member and cashier at Macy’s, thanked all the advocates and the DC council for their work in helping her take home more money each day. “I’m so glad that minimum wage went up today. I’ve been working at Macy’s for 3 years without a pay raise. I was just making $8.25,” she told the crowd. “It was very hard to pay your bills off of $8.25. I’m also so grateful for the sick leave because now if I’m sick I can stay home, where as before when I was sick I was still going to work cause I didn’t’ want to miss an hour of pay.”

UFCW Local 400 member Jacqueline McFadden received a raise on July 1, 2014.

UFCW Local 400 member Jacqueline McFadden received a raise on July 1, 2014.

“I’m also so grateful for the sick leave because now if I’m sick I can stay home, where as before when I was sick I was still going to work cause I didn’t’ want to miss an hour of pay.”

Jacqueline’s testimony was followed by a chorus of workers thanking supporters of bill. As maintenance worker Johnny Castillo said, “Estamos aquí para felicitar el logro que lleva beneficio a la comunidad latina y todos los trabajadores de Washington DC, el aumento del sueldo y los días de enfermedad. Gracias al esfuerzo de todos nosotros por el trabajo este. Vamos a empujar un poco más fuerte para que sea aún más favorable con la Acta de Prevención del Robo de Salarios.”

Jonny Castillo reminds the crowd that there is still work left to do!

Jonny Castillo reminds the crowd that there is still work left to do!

“We are here to celebrate the success of the wage raise and paid sick days, which will benefit the Latino community and all workers in DC. Thanks to the efforts of everyone here for this work. We will continue to push a little longer so the laws are even more favorable with the Wage Theft Prevention Act!”

In addition to the compelling personal stories of the workers, local small business owners also spoke up and explained why they support better compensation for their own employees. Chef Furard Tate from Inspire BBQ and Shawnda Steward, general manager of Florida Avenue Grill, spoke eloquently about how well compensated employees allow their businesses to thrive. As Chef Tate put it, “You all here today have shown, and our Council has shown, if you treat people right, pay people what we know we can pay people…our city will be better for everyone.”

Chef Tate of Inspire BBQ joins in to share why as a business owner he supports a raise in the minimum wage.

Chef Tate of Inspire BBQ joins in to share why as a business owner he supports a raise in the minimum wage.

If you treat people right, pay people what we know we can pay people…our city will be better for everyone.

“No one will lose a job when we go $9.50,” said former employee at DC Fiscal Policy Institute Elissa Silverman. “In fact we will create jobs because workers will have more money.”

Reverend Hagler fires up the crowd and reminds the DC community why it is important that we stick together.

Reverend Hagler fires up the crowd and reminds the DC community why it is important that we stick together.

Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ captured the the tone for the event in his closing remarks. Reverend Hagler, as part of Respect DC, was a vocal advocate for the Large Retailer Accountability Act, a bill whose veto by the mayor kick started the fight for raising the minimum wage. He continued the joyful tone before reminding everyone present that “this represents what happens when people work together…When we come together its more powerful…This is only the beginning and we have only begun to fight..”

“This is only the beginning.”

Nikki Lewis, Executive Director of D.C. Jobs with Justice, MCed the festive event. “Today marks a big step forward for D.C. working families, but if we are truly going to ensure all workers are able to provide for their families and afford the basics like rent and food, we need to increase the tipped minimum wage and improve wage theft enforcement,” she fired at the crowd. “The only way we’re going to get our economy back on track is if D.C. workers have money in their pockets to spend at local businesses. Paying poverty wages and stealing from minimum wage employees is only going to hurt our economy.”

EJC worker activist Salvador Martinez speaks with Telemundo about why these laws are a major win for DC workers.

EJC worker activist Salvador Martinez speaks with Telemundo about why these laws are a major win for DC workers.

After the press conference, supporters canvassed throughout the Shaw neighborhood educating business owners and workers about the new laws. Speaking to a florist not too far from the press event, EJC supporter

Salvador Martinez said “We are spreading the good news. This law is good for workers and employers.” Canvassers found that while many managers and employees were informed about the law changes, some minimum wage workers were not yet aware of their imminent raise.

 

 

We know that we have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure that the minimum wage increase reaches worker’s pockets. Join the EJC and the DC Wage Theft Coalition at the DC Council for the final vote on the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014 on July 14.

Check out coverage of the event by NBC 4, the Washington PostWNEW 99.1FM, City Paper, CSNWJLA – ABC 7, Washington Hispanic 

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