By Joe Maniscalco
Brooklyn, NY – Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the Christmas shopping season – but this year the day after Thanksgiving also signals the start of a week-long series of nationwide worker actions aimed at finally making a $15 an hour minimum wage a reality for hardworking men and women left out of the economic recovery.
Between November 28, and December 4, low-wage workers across the country will put the fast food giants and big box stores on notice, going out on strike, holding rallies and demonstrating in the streets against persistent poverty wages.
On Black Friday, worker advocates will converge on the Walmart in North Bergen, New Jersey where the average sales associate working for the biggest retailer on the planet earns less than $9 an hour.
In Brooklyn, activists from 15 Now NYC – part of the group that successfully agitated for Seattle’s $15 an hour minimum wage – will gather outside the Atlantic Terminal Mall’s Target outlet located on Flatbush Avenue.
“These kinds of actions are essential to building a grassroots, democratic movement that can win $15 an hour – and much more,” 15 Now NYC spokesperson Daniel Kroop told LaborPress. “Our demand to raise the minimum wage is interconnected to all struggles against oppression and injustice, from low-paid retail work to the failure to indict [Ferguson Police Officer] Darren Wilson.”
While retailers bank on Black Friday deals to make their cash registers sing, worker advocates have seized on the annual consumer crush to connect with shoppers and remind them that there is a dark side to the bargains they hope to find.
Trailblazing Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant helped organize 15 Now last January. Since then, the group has successfully launched 15 chapters across the country, including one in New York where the Green Party of Brooklyn is a major booster.
The group has also engaged with numerous labor organizations and other pro-worker groups including SEIU 1199, NY United, UFT and clerical workers’ unions.
“Actions [like these] bring out activists, create connections, reach out to everyday citizens, and show our strength,” Kroop added. “They are essential to building our forces and getting the establishment to pay attention.”
As poorly as Walmart employees are faring, Target workers have it even worse. Hourly sales associates and cashiers at Target make less on average than Walmart employees holding the same position. According to 15 Now NYC, Target’s so-called “team members” make an average of $8.34 per hour, whereas sales associates at Walmart make an average of $8.86 per hour.
And poverty wages aren’t the only hardships facing the post-recession workforce. As LaborPress continues to report, many unrepresented workers must also contend with uncertain schedules, reduced hours, wage theft and even sexual harassment on the job.