On Tuesday, the Fight for $15 movement launched its first protests since Donald Trump was elected president. Thousands of low-wage workers — along with activists from labor unions, churches, and community groups — took to the streets in dozens of towns and cities across the country. Nearly 200 protesters have been arrested so far.
Trump’s position on the minimum wage is unclear. During a debate he said, “Wages are too high.” He later claimed he just meant that the federal minimum wage should not increase. He also earned a “full flop” from PolitiFact for saying the federal minimum wage should go up to $10, then saying states should set their own minimum wage, not the federal government.
In major travel hubs and airports all over the country, thousands of janitors and baggage handlers joined the movement, walking off the job. In Chicago, activists descended on O’Hare International Airport in droves, and in Los Angeles thousands gathered across the road from the airport, calling for better pay and union rights.
In urban areas from coast to coast, fed-up laborers blocked traffic, often leading to arrests; at last count at least 55 people were arrested in Chicago, 40 in Los Angeles, 34 in Cambridge, and 39 in Detroit.
In Manhattan, more than 200 activists gathered early in the morning in the city’s financial district before marching out and blocking traffic near a local McDonald’s. Twenty-six were arrested, including four local and state officials.
The labor-funded Fight for $15 movement — supported by unions like the Service Employees International Union, which poured millions of dollars into the group — has recently signaled its desire to address not only urban low-wage workers, but also the needs of working-class Americans, who helped sweep Trump into office.
The shift from protesting in front of fast-food restaurants — which had been the focus of Fight for $15 — to new venues like airports is significant. The group has said that it wants to draw attention to the fact that while some restaurant work has always been low-wage, it wasn’t so long ago that airport employees earned a living wage.
And the new strategy was on display on Tuesday, when rallies drew low-wage earners from many different fields, including Uber drivers, health-care workers, and child-care providers.
“When Trump is able to spin an entire news cycle about Hamilton instead of other issues that matter to working folks,” said Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, who helped spearhead Tuesday’s action, “it’s that much harder for us to bring attention to the everyday struggles of families trying to put food on the table.”