KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With signs and chants, hundreds fast food workers, union leaders and politicians marched down Main Street in Kansas City on Labor Day to support raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Stand For KC organized the rally, calling it a chance to “take back Labor Day.” The day became a holiday after workers and union leaders created a labor movement to gain better wages and working conditions.
“Hundreds of years later, we are continuing that tradition and we're striking out not only to demand $15 an hour, but union rights, protection and a voice in our job,” explained Bridget Hughes, a team leader for Stand For KC and an employee at Burger King.
She and dozens of other fast food employees went on strike Monday or took the day off. Instead of working, they rallied and marched to call attention to their push for higher pay and better benefits.
Hughes argued union representation would allow her and coworkers to collectively bargain for paid maternity leave, health insurance and higher pay. The mother of four said that after the birth of her most recent child, she was forced to return to work after two weeks.
“If I would have had the paid maternity [leave], I would have had that bonding time with my child that I didn't get. I missed doctor's appointments and school events,” Hughes said.
Rev. Rodney Williams has heard too many stories like Hughes’, he said. As the president of the local NAACP chapter, Williams joined the movement for a higher minimum wage years ago.
“We have to hear those stories,” he said. “Not just hear them, but allow what we hear to energize us to go out into the streets and fight for the rights of our people.”
This summer, voters in Kansas City approved setting the city’s minimum wage at $15 per hour over the course of several years, but later in the summer, Gov. Greitens signed a new state law preventing cities from setting their own minimum wage.
The plan selected by Kansas City voters would've had the minimum wage increase in stages, reaching $15 by 2022. The state law prohibiting the city to carry out that plan went into effect August 28, around a week before the Labor Day rally.
Supporters on the street Monday didn’t let the state's roadblock stop them from chanting their message.
“These corporations are multi-billion dollar companies who can do what's right, do what's moral, and grant their workers a living wage regardless of what our politicians say,” Hughes pointed out.
U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver called companies “stingy” and “narcissistic” for not paying employees a livable salary.
He compared the group’s fight for a higher minimum wage to a boxing match. Using metaphors and stories of Muhammad Ali, Cleaver urged the crowd to keep fighting another round and said more and more supporters are in their corner.
“I feel strongly about it, I have a lot of passion about it because this is something that will transform the community and it will raise the standard of living for everyone,” Cleaver argued.
No opponents to raising the minimum wage showed up at the rally, which 41 Action News live-streamed on Facebook. Online, nearly all of the comments were from people against increasing the minimum wage.
In the past, small business owners have argued they can’t afford the pay increase.
The minimum wage in Missouri as of August 2017 was $7.70 per hour.