December 9, 2013
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Scores of fast food workers taking to the streets demanding a living wage is one thing – but the idea that is surely causing big city plutocrats to plotz all over town this week is the revolutionary idea that soundly resonated throughout Foley Square on Thursday night – all workers are the same.
Those at the demonstration identifying with lighted signs proclaiming "Teacher," "Waiter," "Artist," "Nurse," "Parent" and "This Is Our Moment" – said that it no longer matters if someone is flipping burgers or teaching college courses – if you work for a living in New York City, you are being short-changed.
"We're angry," said Andrea Pluas, an intern and organizer with the Professional Staff Congress [PSC], the union representing over 25,000 faculty and staff throughout the City University of New York [CUNY] and CUNY Research Center. "This a chance for all workers to come together. There is a lot of solidarity here."
The link between fast food workers and college lecturers is particularly significant because critics have long held fast to the notion that fast food workers are somehow undeserving of a living wage because they have failed to pursue higher education.
But like fast food workers at Burger King, Wendy's and McDonald's, the over 10,000 adjunct lecturers routinely running college classrooms throughout the CUNY system, also find themselves "up against it."
Many earn annual salaries between $13,000 and $26,000, are unsure of their job status from one semester to the next, and even turn to food stamps in order to survive. All this despite impressive academic credentials and years of teaching experience.
"So, what's the difference?" said Marcia Newfield, vice-president PSC, Part-Time Personnel. "Everything is built on a hierarchy. And we're all being undernourished by the system. It's easy to sink."
Julie Goldsmith served as one of the lead organizers for the innovative "NYC Light Brigade" – the activists behind the illuminated signs punctuating Foley Square last week. She has worked in both the fast food and retail industries.
"Many times, wages are contingent on how good service is – but those giving up the most are not being rewarded," Goldsmith said.
Although enthusiastic about Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's crushing victory over former MTA boss Joe Lhota, progressives pushing for living wages, affordable housing, good schools and municipal contracts, are committed to keeping the pressure on.
"We know from bitter experience that there's nothing magical about putting a good guy in office," said Jim Perlstein, PSC Retirees and Solidarity Committee. "People have to follow through."
According to Perlstein, the working poor and middle class must still contend with a corrosive "culture of individuals" that has so often proven to be a "losing proposition" in the past.
"It's even infected the institutions we belong to," Perlstein said. "We have to acknowledge that there are solutions that benefit all of us."
There is certainly a long history of giving lip service to common cause amongst working men and women. This time out, however, there are many indications that it might actually stick.
Said Newfield, "For the first time, we're seeing a conscious vision of solidarity."