In March of 2017 striking York food service workers, represented by Unite Here Local 75, went on strike for and won a $15/hour starting wage and fair working conditions. Their victory paved the way for workers right across the province to achieve $15 and fairness.
The workers won major improvements to their contract in the nearly three week strike, that will see an immediate bump in their starting wage from $12.21 per hour to $13.21, which will apply retroactively back to last September. There will be a further wage increase this coming September and by the end of the first year of the contract the starting wage for all workers will be $15.
They also achieved a significant victory by getting Aramark to fully cover the dental plan, which the company has never done for any of its workers in North America. By the end of the contract, all workers, both full-time and part-time, will be on the health and dental plan.
The lesson for those engaged in the solidarity work is that doing sustained mass outreach and consciousness building about the issues — and even broader concepts like striking, scabbing and unions — is essential. This was made easier by the existence of the $15 and Fairness campaign, which spoke to the direct interests and concerns of students and other workers on campus. Instead of making the support for the service workers contingent upon an abstract sense of solidarity, it allowed people in the York community to concretely understand that a victory for food service workers would make it easier to achieve $15 and fairness for all workers.
The solidarity effort fed off the strength of the workers. Their courage and convictions were the scaffolding of the work done by all the groups on campus. No one group aimed to divide, dominate, or take credit for the solidarity because the striking workers anchored and clarified what needed to be done. Everyone came to operate under the premise that many hands make light work.
The strike also shows the true power of the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign. The campaign is aiming to reform labour law for unionized and non-unionized workers alike. The goal is not just to win legislative reform, it is also to build the confidence and capacity of workers to engage in this fight.
What this successful strike demonstrates is that the campaign can be used by workers to achieve substantive victories in the collective bargaining process. What we saw firsthand was the Fight for $15 and Fairness can raise expectations, it can help build a wide layer of support, and it can be a useful framework to galvanize workers and students into action. By building a broad based class movement for all workers, the campaign can help raise the floor of working standards so that unionized workers can have the power and confidence to fight for more.