By Paul Krehbiel

Over 200 labor and community activists met at Holman United Methodist Church in central Los Angeles October 2 to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage for over 800,000 low paid workers in Los Angeles.  The majority are people of color.  Experts say at least $15 an hour is needed to get out of poverty.   The Los Angeles City Council recently passed a law mandating the larger LA hotels to pay hotel workers a minimum of $15.37 an hour, pushed through by the labor movement.  Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed to raise LA’s minimum wage for all workers to $13.25 an hour by 2017.  Some say this is a good start, but not enough to end poverty. The activists at Holman pledged to fight for $15 an hour.

Alberto Salazar, the moderator of the meeting from the Community Coalition, said he knows poverty first-hand.  His dad worked on a boat in Mexico for 20 years and got food and shelter but didn’t get paid.

Victor Narro of the East Los Angeles Workers Center said we must build alliances with other movements, saying he was in New York City and marched in the recent Peoples Climate March.  We have the opportunity to unite the labor movement with the climate justice movement, he said.  The fight for good paying green jobs is one example.

Rusty Hicks of the LA County Federation of Labor said many jobs were lost in Los Angeles in the 2008 Great Recession.  Not all were replaced.  Of those that were, 25% pay less than the old jobs.  The labor federation is committed to fighting for $15 an hour.

Janet Lopez, a McDonald’s worker, says many fast food workers make just $9 an hour. She said she has reduced hours, is in school, and makes so little that she’s on public assistance.  She’s working with SEIU Local 721’s campaign fight for $15 and was arrested recently for civil disobedience.  McDonald’s made $5.5 million in profits,î she said.  They can afford to pay $15 an hour.

Enforcement of Wage Laws
Alexandra Suh, Executive Director of the Korean Immigrant Workers Alliance,in LA’s Koreatown, said $15 an hour is a good goal, but that we need enforcement of existing laws.  Wage theft affects 80% of workers in low wage jobs, she said.  Half of garment workers in Los Angeles don’t make minimum wage.  Even when we win wage theft cases, some are for $20,000, employers don’t pay.  They pay in only 13% of the cases.  We need enforcement laws with teeth,î she said.  Workers lose $26 million a week to wage theft.î  Garment workers were once heavily unionized decades ago.  But employers closed shop in LA and moved to lower wage countries overseas.  Now, in the current cut-throat economy, companies have opened non-union garment sweatshops in Los Angeles, hired desperate immigrant workers, and pay poverty wages.  Organizers say we need $15 an hour guaranteed and paid in full, and a union.

Peter Kuhns, of the multi-racial social justice group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said they were working for more paid sick days for workers, and support $15 an hour.

Lola Smallwood-Cuervas of the Black Workers Center, said we must enforce all laws for workers.  Black workers aren’t hired in the local factories.î  Black and Brown workers are pitted against each other over scarce jobs.  We must unite them.î

From the floor, Carlos Montes, president of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Association and a leader of the 1968 Chicano High School walkouts, told the crowd that when Black, Brown, Asian and whites work together we make the biggest gains.

John Parker, a leader of the LA Workers Assembly and of the campaign to put $15 an hour minimum wage on the ballot, urged people to join in signature collection to put the initiative before the voters.

For more information or to get involved, contact the LA Federation of Labor at 213-381-5611, or the LA Workers Assembly at 323-306-6240.

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