From the steps of City Hall, to the literal feet of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, DC homecare workers made a bold statement on the April 15, 2015 national day of action for $15 and union. The day was the biggest-ever mobilization of low-wage workers, including fast-food workers, home care workers, child care workers, airport workers, adjunct professors and Walmart workers from every corner of the country.
The day in DC started as homecare workers joined a broad coalition in announcing a city-wide ballot initiative for a $15 an hour minimum wage. The press conference at the Wilson Building was organized by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and also included 32BJ SEIU, as well as the Working Families Organization, Jobs with Justice, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Jews United for Justice and OUR Walmart.
“There is nothing like helping people, which is why I love being a home care worker,” said Faye Jack, a home care worker from Northeast D.C. “But even my clients worry about me. They ask if I ever have time to spend with my family because I work so much and get paid so little. It’s a shame that even
the people I work for are concerned, but that’s why I’m standing up with homecare workers who are just like me; workers who get up early and work all night to take care of others, but can’t afford to take care of ourselves.”
Organizations in the coalition said they would soon be launching a signature drive that would include phone banking, door knocking, rallying, advertising and direct outreach to thousands of D.C. voters.
At 6pm that day, the focus switched to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial where homecare workers told their stories of insufficient pay and benefits on the job: “Fifteen dollars is what we need to make a living,” said home health aide Gladys Negbegble, as her young child hid partially behind her. “I believe if we had $15, it would give me more time to spend with my daughter. It would allow me to provide for my daughter.”
The 6pm event also included rousing remarks from the Rev. Graylan Hagler, pastor of the Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and uplifting songs from the DC Labor Chorus, which drew crowd participation with Civil Rights Movement standards, including “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” “This Little Light of Mine” and “There’s Honey in the Rock.” Vocalist Ayanna Gregory sang some tunes modified for the occasion and included participation from her two young nieces who offered their own take on the meaning of the day: “Some people don’t have enough money like McDonalds, said tiny Zoharah. “They work hard and people don’t want to give them money. Their boss
just wants to sit and count the money.”
The event at the King memorial ended with an impromptu march around the 30-feet-high statue and a rendering of “We Shall Overcome.”