"$15 an hour and a union!" is the new rallying cry for low-wage workers across the country. Fast-food employees in seven cities, from New York City to St. Louis, walked off their jobs for four days in July at chains like McDonald’s, KFC and Wendy’s. Wal-Mart employees gathered to protest at the retailer’s shareholder meeting in June, continuing a campaign that started last fall of grass-roots activism against the company. And just Monday a major strike of Seattle grocery-store workers was narrowly avoided.
The obvious problem low-wage workers face is inadequate pay; that is why their first demand is $15 dollars per hour. But they also want a say in their work, hence the second demand, for a union. This dimension often goes unnoticed in the conversation, but the experience of working low-wage jobs is just as important as what they pay. These workers are fighting not just for higher pay but also for a labor market that brings them an element of dignity.