Labor Day is a federal holiday often celebrated with sales and barbecues, but it became a holiday in 1894 following a railroad strike where United States armed forces killed 30 protesting workers. This Labor Day, protesting workers again seek the protections of labor unions and fair wages that workers fought for 123 years ago.
But more than just a living wage, the ‘Fight for $15 and a Union‘ is a fight for the lives of people like Kansas City McDonald’s employee Kenya Banks.
Banks found herself in the emergency room in April due to profuse bleeding caused by fibroid tumors in her stomach and uterus. Doctors ordered a blood transfusion and recommended a hysterectomy, which Banks couldn’t afford as she didn’t have health insurance. She refused treatment.
In May, she didn’t have a choice. When she bled out again, doctors performed an emergency hysterectomy.
“I was going to die,” Banks told the Kansas City Star.
Banks now receives bills she can’t pay and is prescribed antibiotics she can’t afford. Her intestines are inflamed. Since McDonald’s offers no paid sick leave, Banks returned to work two weeks after her surgery instead of the six weeks doctors ordered.
Her struggle brought her out Monday morning to join 300 protesters at 33rd Street and Southwest Boulevard in Kansas City to call for better treatment and wages for low-income workers. Demonstrators waved American flags and placards saying “Unionize”. Many of the protesters were scheduled to work on Labor Day, but given the holiday’s history, chose to strike instead.
“It’s about having a union,” Banks said before taking the stage. “It’s about getting things done together that we cannot do alone.”
Since 2012, the ‘Fight for $15 and a Union’ has exploded from fast-food workers in New York City to a global campaign, spanning over 300 cities on six continents drawing in low-wage workers from nursing homes, child care facilities and airports as well. The rally Banks attended, sponsored by Stand Up KC, was one of countless across the nation to commemorate Labor Day.
While the movement has shown some victories across the country, including an increase in Kansas City’s own minimum wage this past August (which was later denied by the Missouri state legislature), the road to protecting workers has been, and will continue to be, a long one to march down in Labor Days to come.
Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist from Kalamazoo, Michigan who has specialized in law, policy and government reporting over the course of her career. Follow her on Twitter @katelynkivel.