The inside story of the first successful $15 minimum wage campaign that renewed a national labor movement With captivating narrative and insightful commentary, labor organizer Jonathan Rosenblum reveals the inside story of the first successful fight for a $15 minimum wage, which renewed a national labor movement through bold strategy and broad inclusiveness. Just outside Seattle, an unlikely alliance of Sea-Tac Airport workers, union and community activists, and clergy staged face-to-face confrontations with corporate leaders to unite a diverse, largely immigrant workforce in a struggle over power between airport workers and business and political elites. Digging deep into the root causes of poverty wages, Rosenblum gives a blunt assessment of the daunting problems facing unions today. Beyond $15provides an inspirational blueprint for a powerful, all-inclusive labor movement and is a call for workers to reclaim their power in the new economy.
Most publically, the $15 demand has been associated with fast-food chains, and judging from the experience many have at such places, sympathy is far from universal. This book is not really about them, however, it's about airport workers who, prior to 9/11, had good paying jobs working as ground crew, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and the like. These people supported families and owned houses. After 9/11 and changes that allowed airlines to declare bankruptcy at a whim, all of these good jobs vanished...airline management hit the reset button and via outsourcing agreements determined these jobs were now just worth minimum wage. And the SeaTac community (the city encompassing Seattle's airport) suffered greatly.
It is stories like this one that shows organized labor is still relevant and needed today. I don't always agree they are a good thing, and when they kill the golden goose rather than come to terms out of pure stubbornness and cause permanent damage to their particular industry, they can be a destructive force. But today laws are friendly to business and wealth is concentrated at the very top -- in some cases cited in this story bonuses paid to a single executive could have provided the difference between minimum and $15 for hundreds or thousands of employees. And that ain't right.
There are a lot of industries that are extremely profitable on the backs of those making less than $15 per hour. They are not all drop-out burger flippers -- my wife is a nurse, started as a CNA making about $10 per hour changing diapers on elderly patients who had no control anymore. CNAs, by the way, are regulated and need to be educated and pass a government exam before they are allowed to change diapers for a pittance. This book does give a nod to them, but the prime story is still SeaTac workers vs. Alaska Airlines. It's a good story, one worth learning about.
The recently departed Dick Gregory, I had the pleasure of seeing him many times, always reminded his audiences that, "you got to ORGANIZE!!" And although he didn't mean it in the same vein, my Poppa often exhorted, "Organization spells success." Jonathan Rosenblum's book, "Beyond $15," is a tribute to those aphorisms.
It is an important work, not just in the story that it tells (the first successful effort to secure a $15/hour minimum wage), but also how a diverse community of interests -- workers, unions, community groups, faith workers -- can coalesce with a common idea.
Three decades ago, Reason-for-Living (hereinafter R-for-L)and I were employed at a well-known New England university. For over ten years, attempts at organizing the clerical and technical staffs of the colleges that comprised the university had been fruitless. Several times, Jesse Jackson appeared at our rallies, when there really wasn't much political capital in it for him. "How many of you own an MX missile?" Smiles and chuckles in response. "Well then, how many of you own a color TV?" 1000 hands in the air. "That's the problem; we don't make anything anymore except weapons." The difference isn't black and white," he would remind us. "It's GREEN!"
Literally, as this piece is being written, the president of the US is in Indiana, selling his "tax reform" plan that he claims will be a "yuge" benefit to the middle class; yet initial studies of the bill suggest that the biggest tax cuts will be for the proverbial 1%. Nothing new there; Reagan's tax "reform" of the mid-1980s did pretty much the same thing.
This same-ol' same-ol' often leads R-for-L to ask, and not always rhetorically, "WHY do people consistently vote AGAINST their own self-interest!?!?" One reason it happens is because the politricksters -- and apparently at least one real estate magnate as well -- love to peddle fear. Alas, we have seen it work too well and so often, throughout the world.
Which is why Rosenblum's chapter 4 is so important. "Bridging The Trust Gap" (pp. 56-72). Perhaps it should have been a much longer chapter, it is SO important a lesson. Yet the message is crystal clear: an "embryonic foundation of trust" among employees had been formed, truly and literally building a bridge across ethnic and cultural divides. With trust comes learning, and one "yuge" thing we learn is what unites us is stronger than any subterfuge that is designed and erected to divide us.
At that university where R-for-L and I worked, we would very often be asked, "But what will my boss THINK of me if I vote for the union???" Indeed, that was one of the college's main line of attack: that we should feel proud to be working at such an august university. But Congressman Barney Frank had a ready answer: "You can't eat prestige."
The more things change, the more they stay the same, the old folk-wisdom says. That often seems so true, doesn't it? But it doesn't have to be so forever. Mr Rosenblum's important tutorial can remind all of us of another eloquent quote: People see things as they are, and ask why ... but I dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?
Why not, indeed.
(PS: The campus where R-for-L and I worked did vote to organize. Approximately 1500 people voted, and it passed by all of 30 votes. The grad school where R-for-L worked, 65% voted for union represenation.)
As the synopsis states, Rosenblum did "dig deep into the root causes of poverty in the United States, and gives a blunt analysis of the problems the union currently faces in the wake of a struggle for power between immigrant workers and business and political elites." At least, in his opinion.
I guess when I registered to win this novel I didn't realize that the author was one of the organizers of Proposition 1? The story becomes more of a historical memoir, a success of a personal nature. I do think Rosenblum makes several good points about the state of the labor movement in America, if arguable. But the fact that he begins the story with his origins, his experience before Seattle, helps to tell the reader who's talking to you.
Overall I think it's a very interesting story. Dry at times, maybe a little too expansive in others. I don't need to know every character's origin story from the beginning of their youth. But it does create a sympathy for those whom this story is really about.
I am also a disabled traveler. This book reminded me of the humanity of the people who have helped me get through airports. If you use airports, read this book.