DETROIT — Hillary Clinton showed her most robust support yet for the national effort to raise pay for fast food workers, speaking by phone Sunday morning to more than 1,200 workers and organizers from the Fight For 15 movement gathered in Detroit.
"We need you out there leading the fight against those who would rip away Americans' right to organize, to collective bargaining," she said over loudspeakers to a convention center ballroom filled with mostly African American cooks and cashiers.
Fast food workers traveled from across the country, mainly by bus, to the convention, now in its third year, according to organizers from the Service Employees International Union. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said confidence among the movement was at an all-time high, given a string of recent victories Clinton also cited in her speech.
"We need more cities and states to follow the lead of Los Angeles, St. Louis and New York," Clinton said, referring to rulings by city legislatures to raise their local minimum wages to $15 and Governor Cuomo's convening of a wage board to raise the hourly minimum for fast food workers in New York state.
This year's conference had more international representation than past years, with labor leaders from France and New Zealand, among other countries, sharing experiences and tactics for organizing, Henry said.
Immigrant rights activists and religious leaders were also in attendance, and some workers wore hoodies reading #BlackLivesMatter and "I Can't Breathe," references to anti-police brutality protests. Henry said the increasing support of other movements — and workers from other sectors — are a testament to the way the Fight for 15 has expanded to represent all low-wage workers, not just those in fast food.
Clinton also noted the expansion of the movement's reach. "Home care workers and adjunct professors, all of you should not have to march in the streets to get a living wage, but thank you for marching in the streets to get that living wage," she said. "We need you out there."
During a day of action by the Fight for 15 in more than 200 cities this past April 15, Clinton had tweeted her support for the protesters, but so far she has stopped short of explicitly calling for a $15 federal minimum.
Two days after the April demonstrations, Henry said Governor Cuomo called her up to say, "This is off the hook," and shortly after convened the wage board. She said the SEIU plans to call for wage boards in every city in America, once the results come down in New York state. "He just dusted off this old law," she said of the wage board as a the tool in the fight to raise minimum wage. The union believes the board could be used elsewhere to great effect.
Speaking to the workers at the conference Sunday, Clinton called for fixes to the immigration system and balance in the criminal justice system, "because all lives matter," and said, expressly, "We need to protect the right of every worker to join a union."
Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.
Contact Cora Lewis at email@example.com.
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