I am proud to say that in 2015, Kansas City’s movement for $15 an hour and a union demonstrated its growing power. In a non-stop year characterized by new projects and strategies, Kansas City’s low-wage workers made great strides. They influenced public policy, broadened their base, and deepened their commitments to racial and economic justice.
We are happy to report that the movement spread to new industries. Home healthcare workers and childcare workers joined the fight and valiantly stood side-by-side with fast food workers demanding justice.
Next, the movement demonstrated its ability to pressure multiple targets with agility. While workers continued to press major corporations for raises and union rights by going on strike, they also pressured Kansas City to increase the minimum wage. The City Council ultimately voted 12-1 in support of a $13 minimum wage, the first major increase in the region. And while the state legislature has since interfered with that victory, workers remain wholly undeterred vowing to organize a “Fifteen Voter Bloc” that will bring scores of new voters into the electoral arena, during a critical election year. With nearly half of Missourians making less than $15 an hour, workers hold the potential to make a real difference.
In 2015, workers also demonstrated their talent for influencing others through the arts. Members of the Langston Hughes Photography Club, under the tutelage of a professional photojournalist, learned to take photos documenting their lives and the Fight for Fifteen. When workers held their first gallery show, they won instant, critical acclaim. The New York Times and several other media outlets covered their work. The photos touched people across the globe, attracting further support for the movement.
Movement women stood to be counted in 2015. The Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee met regularly to discuss the issues that they face on the job and at home, from sexual harassment, to discrimination in pay, to domestic assault. The Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Committee traveled to Chicago for leadership training, held demonstrations, and sponsored a film showing featuring historical, female labor leaders.
Kansas City’s prominence in the national movement took center stage in 2015 when our very own Terrence Wise travelled to the White House to introduce President Obama at a labor summit. Workers have influenced officials from the local level all the way up to the President of the United States.
Workers stood as a beacon of hope in discouraging times in 2015. As one tragic police shooting after another grabbed national headlines, and as Donald Trump stirred divisive, anti-immigrant sentiment across the country, low wage workers stood for justice and equality. Ending the year with a major strike, rally, and march, workers of all backgrounds vowed to fight for racial equality and unity, an end to police brutality, and the passage of immigration reform.
I cannot tell you how proud I am of the courageous workers leading our country to higher ground. They bear the heaviest brunt of the economic and racial inequality that marks our times and yet, they are standing up, vigorously fighting to make the promise of America a reality for all of us. Won’t you please support them as they gear up for what is bound to be a critical year in this fight. Make a donation and you will make it possible for us to do more, to go further, and to fight harder for a fair and just city, state and country.
Michael M. Enriquez
MCED and WOC-KC, Executive Director