Starting before dawn and going long after dusk on Thursday, December 4, workers in almost 200 American cities walked out on strike demanding $15 an hour and the right to organize without retaliation. From New York to the Pacific Northwest, thousands of workers from fast food restaurants, convenience and dollar stores, and the home care and airport industries came together to challenge their poverty wage employers to do better.
Here in Washington State, where the fight for $15 has already been successful in SeaTac and Seattle, a day of rolling fast food strikes ended with a raucous demonstration outside an Olympia Olive Garden. Olive Garden workers were joined by home care and airport workers and other fast food workers from around the region, as the crowd circled the restaurant chanting, “Make it fair!” “Never give up!” and “We can win!”
"They can share a piece of that pie," said Nicholas Powell of his employer, Olive Garden, which reported $3.7 billion in sales last year. Other fast food workers there to support Nicholas and his striking coworkers talked about wanting to be able to go back to school, about working multiple jobs and still struggling to pay for the basics. “It’s one thing to be poor,” said Daniel from Kent. “But to have a job and still be poor isn’t right.”
The strike and demonstration at Olive Garden was just the last stop in a day that started early that morning in Bellevue, with dozens of workers calling for higher wages on the Eastside, too. “I’m out here for the same reasons as everybody,” said Tony, who works at a Bellevue Burger King. “For my community, for my family. For my mom.” His mom wants to retire soon, and needs help paying for medication. He wants to go back to school. “$9 an hour isn’t enough… Even full-time, it’s still not enough.” Sylvia Fatima Aho, a home-care worker, said she was out that day because “We suffer from low wages, too. The pay we get, it does not let us go anywhere… We understand the fast-food workers. We have to stand up.”
That afternoon over in Aberdeen, fast-food workers joined by home-care workers marched past fast-food restaurants in the pouring rain. “If we raised wages here,” said Nathan, who works at a Taco Bell in Aberdeen, “people would spend more, and it would help this town. It would feed money back into this town. We could afford groceries and gas.” Anna Anderson, an Aberdeen Jack in the Box worker, wrote a must-read statement about why she needs higher wages.
Around the same time, striking fast-food workers in Kent were also on the march, circling a Popeye’s and even holding court inside a McDonald’s restaurant. Phil, a home-care worker, said of living on low wages: “I run out of money before I run out of month.” Sonny, from Covington, added, “We don’t just want to live, we want to thrive.”
Throughout the day, online supporters across Washington sent messages to striking workers, and we brought them with us on a homemade electronic sign. (Thank you!)
Workers descended on the State Capitol in Olympia later in the afternoon to hear committee testimony on living wages and the rising costs of living in this state, and to meet with legislators to tell their stories. About 150 people gathered on the capitol steps for a rally before heading over to the Olive Garden, where the night ended with the biggest, loudest action yet.
Make it fair.
Never give up.
We can win.