Darius Cephas said Monday’s strike would be his ninth. The 26-year-old Chipotle worker from Norwood, who would help lead a march through Boston with his raspy voice on a bullhorn, said that when he first started working in fast food, at McDonald’s, he earned $8 an hour. But his schedule was never set: One week he’d work 40 hours, the next maybe just the weekend.
“Fifteen dollars an hour is something we all need; a union is something we definitely need, for all workers, because that’s what protects us,” Cephas said.
Cephas was among hundreds of demonstrators who gathered at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common on Labor Day to advocate for a $15 minimum wage and stronger unions in Massachusetts, as a part of a nationwide day of action. As of January, the state’s minimum wage is $11.
Waving flags, beating drums, holding signs, and wearing hues of purple, red, yellow, and blue, the activists declared, “Labor Day is for the workers.”
“A lot of places are actually accepting of $15, and right now, Massachusetts needs to be the next state to step up,” Cephas said, noting that studies have shown that to live in the city, you must make at least that.
“You can have four or five incomes in one house and still be unable to take care of the household,” he said. “You’re trying to do your best with nothing, and that’s all they give us.”
Roxana Rivera, vice president of District 615 for the labor union 32BJSEIU and one of the organizers of the rally, said that while the obstacles facing workers have escalated, “we’re not going to give up on our country.”
“Today is an effort not only here in Boston, but in 300 other cities,” Rivera said. “We’re trying to lift up the issue of the need for unions.”
Demonstrations like Monday’s, Rivera said, help unions push for policy changes, such as raising the minimum wage and immigrant worker rights.
“Today we’re marching, saying that there’s a need for unions in Massachusetts. We want workers to be able to organize without the threat of being fired, and we also want to fight for policies that help all working people,” she said.
Barbara Fisher, a Dunkin’ Donuts employee who commutes from Hyde Park to Quincy — an hour-and-a-half daily on public transportation — brought her two children, ages 4 and 8, with her on Monday to march.
“Today was awesome,” Fisher said. “I woke up proud, I woke up feeling like, ‘We got it.’ . . . I’m going out [there] for a purpose: [I] want to make my kids’ future change.”
Fisher described herself as a “helper,” something she said she knew when she was 15. Monday marked her fifth strike since she became active with the Fight for $15 campaign.
“Being in this movement means a lot to me,” she said, tearing up. “It really touches a spot in my heart, not only for me, and not only for my kids, but the next person’s kids, the person that’s sleeping on ground when it’s cold — it will come in handy for them.”
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in April 2016 that he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 “over a period of time.” Governor Charlie Baker has said he wants to see how the recent minimum wage boost will affect the economy before the state looks at another increase. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
In June, state Senate President Stan Rosenberg told WGBH that the state will “absolutely” see a $15 minimum wage law. Raise Up Massachusetts, a coalition of community, labor, and religious groups that helped organize the Labor Day rally, is hoping to collect over 100,000 signatures by December as part of the process to get a $15 minimum wage proposal on the 2018 ballot.
US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who spoke at the bandstand and helped lead the rally as it turned into a march, praised the activists, calling their efforts inspiring.
“Here in Massachusetts, we recognize that not only have unions played an integral role in economic justice . . . but to civil rights as well,” Kennedy said. “The power of that movement is critical to make sure the workers’ voices are heard, and, when they are, our society moves forward.”
As the crowd snaked through the streets, marching from Beacon to Arlington, Arlington to Newbury, and Newbury to Exeter, chants of “This is what democracy looks like” and “We work, we sweat, put $15 on that check,” reverberated off the brownstones and high-end shops in the Back Bay.
Arriving at Copley Square, the march ended with a speak-out that included one last chant:
“Because when we fight, we win.”