Hundreds of workers in Oakland and San Francisco joined with cities and airports across the nation in a coordinated day of action called “Day of Disruption,” focusing on improving workers’ rights on Tuesday, November 29. Fast-food workers, airport employees, janitors, house care workers, child care workers, Uber and Lyft drivers, and more came together in East Oakland early Tuesday morning and shut down the intersection at 98th Avenue and International Boulevard. 27 people were arrested for obstructing a street and were released later in the morning. In the afternoon of the same day, a demonstration took place at San Francisco International Airport where airport workers were joined by Uber and Lyft drivers to demand higher pay. SFO was one of 39 airports across the country that protested for airport worker rights.
Nation-wide protests brought workers’ rights and minimum wage issues to the forefront and marked the four year anniversary of Fight for $15, a campaign to raise the national minimum wage which is currently $7.25 per hour to $15 per hour and increase worker benefits. An employee at KFC, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “The minimum wage should be raised to fifteen dollars because prices for everything are going up, such as food and rent, and when it’s raised, living will be easier.” Protesters are earning wages that many don’t believe are livable and say that it is their right to be able to afford to live where they work. Nate Dahl, the minimum wage program administrator for the City of Berkeley said,
“The cost of living has increased drastically due to inflation, but the minimum wage has not increased equally.”
As housing prices increase, workers’ demands for higher pay also increase.
“All minimum wage jobs in Oakland are $12.55 per hour, and it doesn’t match the housing market, so a lot of people can’t afford to live here,” Aaliyah Faye, an employee at Round Table Pizza in Temescal, Oakland said. “People from San Francisco are coming to Oakland and taking the housing from the people in Oakland who get paid less because [people from San Francisco] can afford it.” Uber and Lyft drivers have voiced their concern of driving for more hours than in the past, yet earning less than a livable wage. Other protesters said that living off of minimum wage means working check to check and making daily decisions around spending their money on food, rent, or school.
At SFO, the workers protested in solidarity with the Fight for $15 movement and voiced their own needs when it comes to working conditions in the airport and wage benefits. Stephen Boardman, the spokesperson for the airport worker union for SFO, which represents passenger service workers such as baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, and security, said,
“We have seen a steady decline in the quality of airport jobs, so we are getting in the process of negotiating a new contract that includes better wage benefits and improved safety and working conditions.”
Contrary to workers in other parts of the country, many SFO workers represented by the union are paid over fifteen dollars but still struggle to support themselves because the Bay Area living costs are significantly above the majority of the country. “California has already passed a law that will eventually bring the minimum wage up to fifteen dollars, but we are fighting for significantly more than that,” said Boardman. “All of the workers have to live within the proximities of SFO which is one of the most expensive areas in the country.” Workers living off minimum wage in the Bay Area may struggle more than those in other parts of the country where housing prices are lower and where the housing crisis is not at such a large scale.
The demand for an increased minimum wage is not supported by all Bay Area workers, especially in the realm of small businesses. Some small business owners and managers are opposed to raising the minimum wage because of the economic damage it could do to them and their businesses. A manager of a small business in Downtown Berkeley, who preferred to remain anonymous, said, “[Raised minimum wage] hurts us a lot because we have to keep raising our prices, and we can’t sustain it as well as big chains and corporations like Subway or Chipotle.” The manager voiced the point that for big chains and corporations, a raised minimum wage isn’t likely to affect their business or force them to raise their prices in the same way it does to a small business.
Others argue that raising the minimum wage will help small businesses by allowing low wage workers to spend more money and spreading it among businesses.
“If more money is put into the pockets of low-wage workers, by way of increased minimum wages, those people will spend that extra money in the local economy,” Dahl said. “I see it as not only a way to improve the lives of low-wage workers, but also a way to stimulate the local economy.”