On Wednesday, the day that Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States, most of the Congressional top brass was there — about half of the Senate, and a handful of House members, including establishment stalwarts like Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell, as well as progressive icons like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, however, was not there. Instead, Ocasio-Cortez was attending a Teamsters strike in her home district in the Bronx, passing out hot chocolate and hand warmers to support workers who began striking on Sunday over a breakdown in negotiations. The 1,400 workers who walked off the job at the Hunts Point Produce Market help to supply 60 percent of the produce for New York City, the market boasts. The workers demanded a $1 an hour raise. Management offered a 32 cents an hour raise instead. Union members currently make between $18 and $21 an hour.
COVID-19 has made work conditions hard, the essential workers say. A union trustee for the market’s workers, Charles Machadio, told Gothamist that many have gotten sick and some have even died during the pandemic. “We’re working in a pandemic, now risking our life, every day…. They really deserve $4 an hour [more],” Machadio said.
“You’re not just asking for a dollar. You’re asking for transformational change for your lives and for the lives of food workers across the country, for kids of food workers across the country. Because there’s a lot of things upside down right now.” Ocasio-Cortez said at the strike on Wednesday night. “What we’re doing here today is taking the upside down and making it right side up.”
— David Cruz (@CWEBCRUZER) January 21, 2021
The market reportedly pulls in $2 billion a year in revenue. “It’s embarrassing that a corporation enjoying pandemic profits, millions in PPP & more in tax giveaways is fighting a $1 raise for essential workers who’ve risked their lives all year to feed us,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. As a labor movement strategy, strikes have been on the rise because of the pandemic.
Some labor leaders are hoping that the new administration will mark a turning point in the labor movement on a national level. Organized labor leaders have offered reserved praise about Joe Biden, with hopes that he will embrace progressive labor rights standards, starting with offsetting the effects of the pandemic. Labor supporters were excited to see a bust of Cesar Chavez, a civil rights and labor leader, in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Biden has come out strongly for a number of key labor reforms. One is a sweeping pro-union bill called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act that would push back on a number of Republican bills over the years that have hampered unions.
And, earlier this month, Biden released an economic plan that includes calling on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a benchmark that progressives have been championing for years through the grassroots Fight for $15 movement. The movement has had success in places across the country — most notably in Florida recently when it voted to pass a $15 minimum wage in November. With a majority-Democrat Congress and Biden as president fully supporting the plan, the goal to raise the federal minimum wage to the threshold that activists have called for is closer than it ever has been.