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Labor Day 2013 Brings New Twist to Labor Movement


Wednesday, August 28, 2013   

CHICAGO - Fast-food workers in Chicago and around the nation are leading into Labor Day with another round of one-day strikes Thursday.

Steven Ashby, a University of Illinois professor who specializes in labor and employment relations, said these strikes have picked up momentum this year, partly because of their new approach. Instead of targeting one company, in Chicago, they target low-wage industries - fast food and retail - and strike for one day.

Another difference, Ashby said, is that religious leaders go back to their jobs with them the next day to make sure there's no retaliation. He said that empowers the workers.

"Scores of clergy just stand with the workers, to the bosses," he said, "and basically say to them, 'Look, it was legal for them to walk off the job. If you punish them, we're going to be back in much larger numbers.' "

In St. Louis, 40 people who had hours cut or lost jobs after a one-day strike all got them back after community leaders walked in and talked with their managers.

Ashby said he believes weak labor laws have caused the labor movement to change its approach.

"So, they're turning to these innovative tactics of labor-community coalitions, one-day strike, hitting an entire industry, organizing for the long run," he said. "And it does seem to be working. The morale of the workers is extremely high."

Ashby said today's fast-food workers are not teenagers living at home. The average employee in that industry is 28 years old, and many are working there after losing higher-paying jobs.

"We have the worst income gap we've had in 80-plus years," he said. "So, the wealthy are doing extremely well, whereas the wages of half of the workforce have been stagnant or declining."

The minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25 an hour, which for a full-time worker amounts to slightly more than $17,000 a year before taxes. President Obama has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2015. If the minimum wage in 1968 had been adjusted for inflation, analysts say, it would already be up to $10.56 an hour.

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