Sharika Evans grew up working in fast food. But, she said, the minimum wages she's received - at $7.25 an hour - are not enough to support a family, her health care, utilities and her bills. Evans said she was fired from the McDonald's on Canal Street following a Fight For $15 protest at the restaurant earlier this year. She held the doors open to protesters.
Around 5 p.m. Nov. 29, more than 100 service workers and supporters marched, with a brass band, from Armstrong Park on Rampart Street to Canal Street near the McDonald's between Royal and Bourbon streets. Protesters blocked car and streetcar traffic in all directions for nearly an hour and linked arms, demanding $15 an hour and the ability to unionize. Six people sitting at the intersection were arrested but released with citations for obstructing street traffic.
"The pay we get doesn't reflect the work we put into it," Evans told Gambit.
Wanda, a Walmart employee, told a growing crowd at Armstrong Park that "people shouldn't have to be poor so other people can be rich."
Co-organized by Service Employees International Union, a national Fight For $15 movement launched in 2012 as dozens of fast food workers staged walk outs across New York City, and actions have spread throughout the U.S., with large protests and rallies (and arrests) on Nov. 29. The movement made significant strides helping service workers in hospitals and schools earn higher wages through collective bargaining. But in 2016, following the election of president-elect Donald Trump, the Fight For $15 prepares for the undoing of labor agreements that would likely prevent fast food workers from organizing.
The movement, however, counts its successes on state and city levels across the U.S., with New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. recently adopting $15 minimum wage laws, and with California on board for a $15 minimum wage by 2019.
In New Orleans, city workers earn at least $10.10 an hour, with some city contractors earning at least $10.55 an hour. New Orleans sets a citywide minimum wage at $1 more than the federal rate. But Louisiana is not one of 29 states with minimum wages set higher than even the $7.25 federal rate. More than 64,000 people in the metro area work in food service, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with roughly 15,000 of those workers relying on tips - and many rely on the base federal tipped wage of $2.13 an hour.
The Nov. 29 protest in New Orleans followed a day of action around the New Orleans area, including protests at McDonald's on Carrollton Avenue and at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Protesters carried signs (a cutout of a raised fist wielding a spatula, a box of McDonald's fries with "$15" replacing the M) and chanted ("put some respeck on my check," "hold the fries, make our wages supersized," "we work, we sweat, put 15 on our check") as they made their way to Royal and Canal.
In August, Tanya Harrell told Gambit about her struggle supporting a family on the $7.50 an hour she earns at McDonald's on the West Bank. On Nov. 29, while sitting in protest on the street at Royal and Canal, Harrell remained optimistic. Her son Baylen stood near and smiled and sipped from a tall cup of water.
"I'm not gonna say 'if' it happens, but when it happens," Harrell said about the minimum wage hike, "it'll be better for my life, my savings - not just in my life but for everyone else."
As Della Hasselle reported, Louisiana women comprise nearly 80 percent of the state's workforce earning minimum wage. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisiana women on average make 65 cents for every dollar made by men - 14 percent below the national average. "A closer look at the statistics reveals an even grimmer reality," Hasselle wrote. "African-American women, for example, are paid just 48 cents for every dollar earned by white men. For Latinas, the figure is 51 cents."
Along with the state's growing pay gap, there's frequent opposition to equal pay measures as well as minimum wage hikes, blocked by legislators and business groups again in Baton Rouge earlier this year.
Around 6:40 p.m. Nov. 29, after nearly an hour of demonstrations at the intersection, New Orleans Police Department officers arrested six people sitting at Royal and Canal streets. "After being advised that they were in violation of the law, officers detained the subjects and removed them from the area," NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said in a statement to Gambit. They were later released from NOPD custody with citations for obstruction of public passages.
The group continued marching to the door of McDonald's, which had closed during the demonstration, with NOPD officers guarding the door. Employees quietly cheered and filmed protesters chanting, "Come on out, we got your back."