RICHMOND, Va. -- An estimated 10,000 low-wage workers are expected to march down Monument Avenue Saturday, the culmination of the first-ever “Fight for $15” movement convention. Advocates with the “Fight for $15” group are calling for policymakers and big businesses to take steps towards passing a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Organizers said they strategically picked Richmond for the convention because of the city’s role as the former capital of the Confederacy.
"We really want to draw links between the racist history of the United States and current policies that are happening now and the low wages workers are experiencing,” said Kendall Fells, National Organizing Director for Fight for $15. “These are workers who are going to work every day, doing everything by the book, but yet they can't seem to get by. Even though they work for corporations that are making $5-6 billion a year in profit.”
Fells said the group's focus is to put pressure on major fast food and retail corporations to change their pay scale for low-wage workers. Fells points to states like New York and California, who both are in the process of implementing $15 minimum wage requirements, as examples of the organization's success, despite detractors who thought the movement was “crazy” several years ago.
Still, many economists and business leaders think a $15 minimum wage is unrealistic because it would do more harm than good. Nicole Riley, the Virginia Director for the Federation of Independent Business, said small businesses would likely have to cut entry level positions and take other measures to cut labor costs and stay afloat.
"That means cutting hours; that means moving to more automation,” said Riley.
Mandating a $15 minimum wage would put pressure on small business owners raise their pay scale across the board and not just their lowest wage workers, according to Riley.
The “Fight for $15” convention will last Friday into Saturday. The group plans on marching from Monroe Park to the Lee statue on Monument Avenue around 1:30 p.m. Saturday, to serve as a capstone for the convention.
Because of the estimated size of the crowd, the Richmond Police Department said there will be road closures near the area from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
“'No Parking' zones go into effect in areas around the route, such as West Franklin Street and Monument Avenue, at 8 a.m. Saturday and will be in place until 5 p.m. Cars parked along the race course will be towed," wrote the department, in a release.
Richmond fast food worker Pricilla Evans, who is now eight months pregnant, said she plans on attending the convention. Evans said her life on minimum wage forced her to put her first born son up for adoption.
"Barely being able to take care of myself. Either have to struggle with my child and have him not have the things he needs. Or place him with somebody who does have the things he needs,” said Evans, who thinks workers in her financial situation can no longer be ignored. "They'll hush up eventually, like no, we're not going anywhere!"