7 Amazing Fights for the Rights of Workers
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Yet, even beyond the issue of education reform, the Chicago strike represented teachers’ first real answer to a decade-long trend of scapegoating them for larger issues of poverty, violence and urban segregation.
As Chicago Teachers’ Union president Karen Lewis wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal after the seven-day strike ended:
Nearly nine out of 10 students in Chicago Public Schools live in poverty, a shameful fact that so-called reformers too often ignore, yet most schools lack even one full-time nurse or social worker. The district has made cuts where it shouldn't (in art, music, physical education and libraries) but hasn't cut where it should (class sizes and excessive standardized testing and test prep). The tentative agreement reached in Chicago aims to address all these issues.
Chicago's teachers see this as an opportunity to move past the random acts of "reform" that have failed to move the needle and toward actual systemic school improvement.
Despite attempts by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s school district to misrepresent the teachers’ strike as little more than squabbling over salaries, public opinion in Chicago largely backed the teachers , allow ing the strike to stretch into a second week, with grassroots groups such as Parents4Teachers mobilizing up to 1,000 parents to picket alongside the striking education workers.
In the end, the education workers were largely victorious, winning a 17.6 percent average raise over the next four years, increased health insurance coverage, funding for much-needed additional educational services, and, most significantly, a decreased focus on standardized test scores.
"Across the board, on every issue, the teachers got a more favorable outcome than the school system," Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and director of its Labor Education Program in Chicago, told CNN.
More than anything, the Chicago strike sounded an alarm for Emanuel and other political leaders that public sector unions, especially teachers, still wield political and social clout in the United States.
3. New York City Fast-Food Workers
On November 29 in Times Square, hundreds of fast-food workers protested during another one of the year’s most surprising David-and-Goliath showdowns. Throughout the day, 200 workers at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other chains across the five boroughs walked off their shifts in the nation’s first coordinated work stoppage against the notoriously low-wage fast-food industry. Their demand: $15 dollars an hour and a fast-food workers union.
Like the Walmart strikes, the day-long walkout pitted non-unionized, low-wage workers against some of the largest international corporations, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Dominos, Burger King, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Organized by New York Communities for Change, Fast Food Forward, as the organizing campaign is known, has implications for the future of the entire U.S. economy -- much like the Walmart walkouts that preceded it.
According to Sarah Jaffe, writing for the Atlantic : “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that seven out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage fields. And these jobs are not being done by teenagers. Across the country, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28, and women -- who make up two-thirds of the industry -- are over 32, according to the BLS.”
Fast-food workers are currently the lowest-paid employees in the United States, earning a median salary of just over $18,000 annually —putting them below the federal poverty line for a family of three.
The fast-food worker walkout was the most powerful of at least a dozen low-wage organizing campaigns across New York City in 2012, including successful efforts to unionize car washes, grocery stories and an Upper East Side bakery.