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Fight for $15 rally results in 19 police citations after protesters block traffic

The Pitt News

19 protesters cited at Downtown Fight for 15 rally

Hundreds+of+people+gathered+downtown+on+Tuesday+to+protest+for+a+%2415+minimum+wage%2C+among+other+social+issues+%7C+Julia+Zhu%2C+Staff+Photographer%0A
Hundreds of people gathered downtown on Tuesday to protest for a $15 minimum wage, among other social issues | Julia Zhu, Staff Photographer

Hundreds of people gathered downtown on Tuesday to protest for a $15 minimum wage, among other social issues | Julia Zhu, Staff Photographer

Hundreds of people gathered downtown on Tuesday to protest for a $15 minimum wage, among other social issues | Julia Zhu, Staff Photographer

By Lauren Rosenblatt / News Editor

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When Martha Assefa’s mother lived in Pittsburgh 30 years ago, she had no trouble taking care of herself with funds from her minimum wage job.

But now, through her work on a food policy council that works to end hunger, Assefa can see that doing what her mother did is no longer possible. In Pennsylvania, $7.25 per hour just isn’t enough for many people to maintain a moderate living.

Although she lives off more than minimum wage, Assefa said one of the best ways to decrease food insecurity is by raising the baseline wage.

Assefa, 30, from Worcester, Massachusetts, traveled to Pittsburgh Tuesday to take part in a rally to support raising the minimum wage to $15 so, as Assefa and other protesters say, people can have a living wage.

The Fight for 15 movement originally focused on the urban-reaching poor but has now expanded to include middle and working class jobs as well.

“Anything under $15 is impossible to live. 15 is still too low, but at least it’s a starting point,” Assefa said. “It’s unjust to have them constantly working.”

Holding signs reading, “I will work for love, raise my pay,” and, “Strike for $15 and a stronger Pittsburgh,” Assefa joined a crowd of about 700 marchers gathered in front of the William S. Moorhead Federal Building in Downtown Pittsburgh Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Pittsburgh United, One Pittsburgh and UFCW Local 23 hosted the rally as part of the national Fight for 15 Day of Disruption. In 340 cities across the country, protesters gathered at airports, fast food joints and other public spaces to emphasize the need for a living wage and the right to unionize, according to Kai Pang, one of the organizers. Nationwide, the fight has turned more aggressive since Donald Trump’s election, and minimum wage workers are starting to go on strike.

At the rally Downtown, marchers listened to speeches from employees of Giant Eagle, UPMC and fast food chains in Pittsburgh, where workers are pushing for a $15 minimum wage and the continued rights to unionize.

With band accompaniment, the crowd marched down Grant Street and Liberty Avenue, then ended at the McDonald’s near the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Stanwix Street. As they marched, protesters chanted, “Shut it down,” and, “This is what democracy looks like.”

At the intersection, protesters added a new chant — “Hold the burgers, hold the fries, we want wages supersized.”

Police shuffled most protesters to the sidewalk on either side, but several chose to sit in the intersection. Pittsburgh police cited these 19 people for obstructing a roadway.

 

Protesters block traffic at a Downtown rally for the Fight for $15 movement Tuesday evening. | Lauren Rosenblatt, News Editor

Protesters block traffic at a Downtown rally for the Fight for $15 movement Tuesday evening. | Lauren Rosenblatt, News Editor

Pang, a Pitt alum, led the crowd in a moment of silence for those risking civil disobedience while a chorus of honks from blocked cars filled the space. The silence was broken with shouts of, “What do we want? $15. When do we want it? Now.”

As police escorted the protesters out of the intersection, the crowd chanted, “One love, one city.”

Pittsburgh police commander Ed Trapp said the 19 people were cited and released. Photos from the protest posted on Twitter showed Pittsburgh police officers using an empty Port Authority bus to temporarily hold the protesters they cited.

 

Pitt student Chris Pilewski, who came to the protest to support the cause for a higher minimum wage, said it was beautiful to see the community come together at the protest.

“It’s inspiring to see people put their bodies on the line to stand up for what they believe in,” Pilewski, a junior studying philosophy and ecology, said.

Trish Hough, who was with the UFCW Local 23, said that for her, the march was a way to bring awareness to people who didn’t know how working a minimum wage affected someone’s life. She said the raised minimum wage would help people “actually do something with their life,” like putting food on the table and paying their medical bills.

The fight, she said, was about showing people they were worth $15 an hour.

“It’s a way of life for a lot of us,” Hough, 38, from Burgettstown, said. “You’re always going to need someone to stock shelves, and we’re no different from anybody else.”

Elena Smith, a 22-year-old from Squirrel Hill, said she noticed how “broken the system was for people that aren’t privileged” when she first went to Bard College in New York state. There, she said, it was heartbreaking to see the disparity between people’s abilities and how their financial situation limited them.

Smith, who is currently not employed, said that although she isn’t struggling herself, she wanted to at least “be a body” to support those who were. Tuesday’s march, she said, showed her how much people have been quietly suffering.

“I’m new to the city but very happy to see how many people are organizing,” she said. “As much as that is a good sign, it also comes from disappointment.”

Both the city of Pittsburgh and UPMC are taking steps to increase the minimum wage for Pittsburgh workers.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed an executive order on Nov. 10, 2015, requiring all city employees to be paid at least $15 per hour by the year 2021, with increases instituted every January starting in January 2017, according to a press release.

UPMC announced in March they would increase minimum starting salaries for entry-level positions at most Pittsburgh facilities to $15 per hour by January 2021, according to a press release from UPMC. They also agreed to raise average service worker pay to exceed $15 per hour by January 2019.

Pang credits the Fight for 15 movement with UPMC’s announcement but said there are still many people who are not paid enough for the work they do.

“It’s a tale of two Pittsburghs — one where we see all this development coming in and one that’s at risk of being left behind,” Pang said. “[We need to] organize, come together, talk to your peers, talk to your neighbors … we’re shutting it down.”

 

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The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper
19 protesters cited at Downtown Fight for 15 rally