ICYMI: Cleveland wage conference recap
Ohio’s workers face big problems, from factory closures to wage theft. But those problems seem a little smaller when we face them together. That’s why Policy Matters joined with our friends at SEIU District 1199 to host Which Side Are You On?: the Cleveland Work and Wages Conference, last Friday at Tri-C. The conference included more than 100 stakeholders from labor and community-based organizations, including members of SEIU Local 1, representatives from the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, the Central Ohio Worker Center, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Neighborhood Connections and the Ohio Organizing Collaborative.
SEIU District 1199’s Lynn Radcliffe opened the conference with a message of solidarity in, among and beyond unions, describing a fight that “goes beyond the walls of our union shops and pages of our contracts. We are also fighting for our community, because we are the community.”
Our own Amy Hanauer reminded the conference that progressive policies like those in the New Deal were passed “because the kind of people who are in this room demanded that they be passed.” And in a pre-recorded message, Senator Sherrod Brown celebrated the dignity of work.
Most importantly, the conference highlighted workers’ stories of their own victories, including testimony from SEIU Local 1 member Brian Yarbrough, one of the leaders of the “One Cleveland” campaign. Through the campaign, SEIU member janitors fought for and won a path to $15 hourly, improved working conditions and health coverage. Yarbrough emphasized the importance of member engagement and worker power, saying, “I was the voiceless—Now I’m the voice.”
Union-side labor lawyers and grassroots community organizers came together on panels to discuss the challenges that face working people, and what we’ll need to do to address them, including the need for a worker center here in northeast Ohio.
The conference was an important first step toward founding a worker center, a community resource that helps workers fight back against wage theft, unsafe working conditions, workplace retribution and deportation. Staff and stakeholders from worker centers in Cincinnati, Columbus and Chicago described how they help unionized and not-yet-unionized workers stand up to unscrupulous employers.
It all boiled down to a simple idea: We’re stronger together, and a Cleveland worker center will make us stronger still.
For those in attendance, the day was a powerful reminder of our collective strength, and that when we fight, we win.
There will be lots of opportunities to help get this project off the ground. Sign up here to stay informed about the campaign to start a worker center here in Northeast Ohio!