COMMUNITY RALLY FOR FAIR PAY
ELLSWORTH, MAINE — On the outskirts of Ellsworth, Maine, just after we turned off Route 1 in pursuit of a more scenic route home, we heard a notice on WERU, an Orland-based community radio station, announcing that a rally in support of fast food workers had just begun. Having been on vacation, we had been unaware that August 29 had been designated a day for fast food workers and their allies to strike and rally for a hike in wages to $15 an hour until Jan mentioned it to us the previous day.
Assuming we would find the rally on the strip we had sought to avoid, we did a u-turn, re-traced our path, took a right, and soon found a small group of sign-holding protestors in front of McDonalds.
For the next hour we joined them, with chants of “Low Pay, Not Okay,” and conversations about their other activities. Standing under the sign reading “Looking for a job? We are looking for you,” we waved at passers by, many of whom gave us friendly waves in return.
The activist group, made up of local retirees, began its life as Occupy Ellsworth and continues to meet regularly for social and educational events plus occasional actions. The call themselves “Community Union,” and are already planning a Black Friday protest at a local retail store.
The nationwide protest, backed by the SEIU, called attention to the low pay rates typical of work in fast food establishments and also to the fact that the federal minimum wage – stuck at $7.25 an hour – is far from enough for workers to support themselves, let alone their families. In fact, members of the Ellsworth group pointed out that the wages earned by fast food and many retail workers are so low that they are eligible for public assistance. That means taxpayers are subsidizing the operations of highly profitable corporations like McDonalds.
The protest drew attention from Maine Public Radio Network and two local TV stations. My hope is that workers will be emboldened to demand better pay, that state and federal lawmakers will raise the minimum wage, and that even giant corporations will be forced to give in.