By Monique Williams
On April 15, 2015 over 500 workers and supporters rallied together in Los Angeles to fight for justice for an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. The emotion behind each individual was mutual.
Workers within SEIU Local 99 have been voicing their support for an increase in the minimum wage in California and across the United States. In our new union contract at LAUSD, the starting pay for classified workers was already increased to $15 an hour. By sticking, together, we believe other workers can negotiate in fairness as well.
The fight for $15.00 an hour is important to me because I too remember making $9.75 an hour in the 90’s and it was not enough then to have my own apartment without a roommate, pay all my bills, and provide three meals a day for myself. I couldn’t afford a decent car to get to work. I had a car that was not reliable. It drained my small pay check to fix the problems that seemed to occur every month. I rode the bus a lot because I could not afford to keep my car running. Buying the basic necessities at times was difficult. I made a promise to myself that I was not going to continue to live my life in poverty. I was going to do something to change my circumstances. My change happened in 2000 when I was hired by LAUSD as a school bus driver.
When I learned about the fight for a $15.00 minimum wage increase from the members of SEIU Local 99, I didn’t hesitate to join them. I can relate to the hardship of people with families today struggling making under $15.00. This is why standing together for an important cause makes me feel good knowing it’s for a great cause that will help better the lives of America’s working families.
At the April 15th rally on Figueroa and 28th St. near USC, people gathered together in unity repeatedly shouting out, “We Want $15 Dollars!” A few huge balloons were floating in the crowd with two big numbers printed on them: $15. Everyone from different units including, LAUSD transportation, food service workers, homecare workers, childcare workers, airport workers, retail clerks, professors, and supporters wore their t-shirts believing in income equality. The best part about this march was Los Angeles workers were not the only community rallying. In cities across the United States, workers were rallying for the same income equality.
No longer do workers want to keep silent being forced to live pay check-to-pay check, relying on public assistance. No more do workers want to have to scrape-by to feed their families, or scrape-by to pay their rent due to the greed of employers not offering jobs that provide workers with basic necessities.
News vans and interviewers were amongst the crowd gaining information about workers’ concerns.
Happiness was in the air and across the faces of many marching individuals. SEIU Local 99 showed up and showed out in support for its members and members couldn’t have been more appreciative of SEIU Local 99 supporting the march on Tax Day! Gratitude was on the members’ faces and conversations. With great surprise amongst the marching workers were some of USC’s college students speaking out for the increase in the minimum wage because they too, after graduation, will be looking for work and know the challenge that’s out in their communities and that they will soon face.
The icing on the cake at the march was entertainment with Latin music and positive hip hop addressing the equality of a $15 increase in the minimum wage. They pumped the crowd and people danced and sang along with singers and speakers in support of the march. For those who marched, April 15 will no longer be remembered only as Tax Day, but will be remembered as a day of fighting to make a change – of being part of the hope of an increase in the minimum wage across the country, and of equality standing together fighting for justice one fight at a time.
Monique Williams has been a member of SEIU Local 99 for 10 years and is a member of our union’s Communications Committee. She works as a Bus Driver with the Los Angeles Unified School District.