After President Obama spoke at the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel Monday morning, hundreds of workers gathered in the Boston Common as part of the movement to fight for a $15 minimum wage and union representation.
Organized by the #WageAction Coalition and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the “Invisible No More’’ rally began at the Parkman Bandstand to highlight past union victories and the fights still in process today.
Employees within the service industry – from janitors and airport employees to homecare and fast-food workers – marched through downtown Boston to end at the Aquarium T stop on the Blue Line, which is the line that takes passengers and workers to Logan Airport.
“That’s what makes it so important, it does bring visibility to workers that are seen as invisible,’’ said Roxana Rivera, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU. “People think it’s impossible but there really can be change for workers.’’
Rivera, who marched with the service workers today, said that $10 an hour just doesn’t cut it for these employees. She’s known people who work full time at the airport and yet live in a family shelter.
“No one that’s working full time should be living in poverty here in Massachusetts,’’ she said.
Khelia Cox, a non-union employee from the airport, joined the rally today. She has more than one job, and still had to defer her daughter’s college education until January because she was unable to make the payments.
“This is not my first rodeo,’’ said Cox, who attended a workers’ rally at Logan Airport in August. “But I’m going to keep coming out here so that everyone can have a better quality of life. We all know that the cost of living is going up and the wages are not reflecting that.’’
Logan Airport workers have previously rallied twice this year for better wages and union representation. Advocates have argued that they make up the “invisible workforce’’ and go unnoticed and unrewarded for their work, which includes cleaning the airports and handling the baggage.
As President Obama noted during his speech, Massachusetts has been ahead of the game in terms of securing workers’ rights. As far back as the 1800s, mill girls in Lowell created the nation’s first union for working women, and Boston workers fought for the eight-hour work day, the president said.
More recently, union victories in the Commonwealth have included legislation that raised the statewide minimum wage to $9.00/hour on January 1, 2015 and will raise it again to $10.00 per hour in 2015 and $11.00 per hour in 2017. Earned sick time rights for workers was implemented in July, requiring employers to provide one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employees are also allowed to use their sick time to take care of themselves or relatives.
But workers aren’t done fighting. “Obama’s announcement today about the sick time is a great bonus,’’ Cox said. “And it’s all because of how this work we’re doing is extending into other arenas for other people.’’
Rivera said that increasing wages and union protections will affect the economy as a whole as well.
“It’s about making our business stronger,’’ she said. “And to do that, we have to make working families stronger as well.’’