New Haven gave its May Day salute to labor movements-and plenty of them-last Friday.
Everyone from Fight for 15 [dollars per hour] minimum wage workers to members of local unions took to the downtown area streets last Friday following a late afternoon rally on the upper green. They were joined by anti-police brutality activists marching in solidarity with demonstrators in Baltimore, where a wave of protests have followed the death of Freddie Gray, who reportedly died in police custody from a crushed spine.
Reverend John Selders was part of the latter group, but he sees the issues as intertwined.
“We stand together,” Selders said during the pre-march rally. “Our struggle is the same struggle. Dr. King said, ‘until all of us are free, none of us are free’.”
King also stressed a focus on socioeconomic disparity-something activists with Fight for 15, among others, were concerned with as well.
Kevin Vargas, 27, was one of them. He has been a Dunkin Donuts employee since he was 17.
“I’ve been workin at Dunkin Donuts for ten years,” Vargas said. “I’m tired of livin check to check. These bills aren’t gonna pay themselves. I’m makin minimum wage, and I’m tired of it.”
In Connecticut, that will be going up to $10.10, but $15 an hour is considered by Fight for 15 supporters as the “livable wage”. Activists with the movement-many from corporate food service chains like McDonald’s and Subway- are also pushing for the right to unionize.
“We will win $15 an hour and the right to unionize,” Vargas said. “Every decent, hard worker in America deserves the right to live out of poverty. We have the right to support our families. We have the right to jobs with dignity.”
Providing a livable wage to all workers would also provide relief to tax payers, who are left to foot the bill for public assistance benefits that underpaid employees rely on, proponents of a $15 minimum wage say.
“No one should be on welfare,” Vargas said. “If we could get $15 an hour, we could rely less on welfare. We could put that money somewhere else-like education.”
In Connecticut, for example, a single adult needs to make $10.50 per hour to get by, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator
. Add one child, and that jumps up to more than $22 per hour. For a family of four-two adults and two children-the livable wage becomes $20.80.
Two adults who are not parents need to be making $15.94 an hour to be earning a livable wage.
“83,000 jobs-19,000 go to a New Haven resident,” said Kenneth Reveiz, an organizer with New Haven Rising. “That is unacceptable. We are proud to continue the fight in New Haven for a decent environment where we don’t just survive, but thrive.”