One year out from the 2016 presidential election, fast-food and other low-wage workers are striking on Tuesday in hundreds of cities across the U.S., demanding a livable wage, the right to form a union, and attention to their cause from those seeking elected office.
Under the banner 'Come Get My Vote,' workers will walk off the job in 270 cities from Detroit to Denver, while close to 500 cities will host rallies outside city halls in support of the Fight for $15 movement. In Milwaukee, following the strikes and city hall protest, members of Fight for $15 Wisconsin will rally outside the Republican presidential debate at the Milwaukee Theatre.
"Workers need a raise now," Latifah Trezvant, a McDonald's employee from Kansas City, Missouri, told the news website Attn. "McDonald's and other large corporations need to step up and pay more. Politicians need to use their power. We can't wait. We've got one message for anyone running for office in 2016, whether it's for dogcatcher or president: Come get our vote."
According to the SEIU-backed Fight for $15 organization, the 64 million Americans paid less than $15 an hour "are a voting bloc that can no longer be ignored."
Yannet Lathrop, a researcher at the pro-union National Employment Law Project (NELP), told Al Jazeera America that low-wage workers in the United States are "starting to wake up politically." She cited an October poll commissioned by NELP (pdf) showing that 65 percent of low-wage workers would be more likely to vote in the coming presidential race if a candidate supported a $15 minimum wage and unionization.
"The way that low-wage workers have been engaging in the fight for $15 is really suggestive of a low-wage population that was disengaged prior to that fight," Lathrop added.
And the movement has already scored some big victories, including phased-in minimum wage hikes in Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland, and San Francisco. In September, New York became the first state to establish a $15 minimum wage for fast-food workers at chain restaurants.
Organizers predicted Tuesday's strikes would be the largest of their kind. All three Democratic contenders for president have voiced their support for a higher minimum wage, with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both taking to Twitter on Tuesday to encourage the protesting workers. Sanders, for his part, is striking with low-wage workers in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
"Low-wage workers across the country today are offering a glimpse of the power that comes with their unified voice," NELP executive director Christine Owens said Tueday, "and candidates gearing up for the 2016 elections across the country should take note of their urgent calls for change."