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Low-wage workers, union activists rally for higher pay and right to organize without fear of retribution

Union workers joined protesters in support of immigrant rights in a march that began at Grand and Cesar Chavez avenues and ended in front of City Hall. (Video by Claire Hannah Collins / Los Angeles Times).

Uber drivers, street vendors, fast-food workers and union activists arrived downtown by the busload on Monday to participate in a boisterous march and rally aimed at mustering the political power of low-wage employees in next year's United States congressional elections.

On a hot and sticky morning, more than 1,000 workers and Service Employees International Union members blew whistles, banged drums and chanted, "If we fight, we win," as they marched from the intersection of North Grand Avenue and West Cesar Estrada Chavez Avenue to Los Angeles City Hall.

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Giving the noisy procession an approving nod, state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), said, "On a Monday when the vast majority of Americans are relaxing by the pool or at the beach, this is a wonderful turnout."

Service Employees International Union organizers said it was only one of many Labor Day events across the nation focused on mobilizing dissatisfaction with the Trump administration and lawmakers opposed to boosting the minimum wage — and unionization in general — and turning it into a collective vote at the polls.

"When every elected official stands with working people in their demands for a $15 minimum wage and union rights, we can create a new American middle class," SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said, "that will include everyone, including those in the service sector."

Jorge Herrera, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, chant slogans during a Labor Day protest.
Jorge Herrera, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, chant slogans during a Labor Day protest. (Michael Owen Baker / For the Times)

Union organizers accused President Trump of deliberately targeting low-income workers by planning to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects roughly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Monday's march also championed a series of victories for low-wage workers by the Fight for $15 campaign, with support from the SEIU, in cities across the country.

The cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Pasadena, as well as in unincorporated communities in Los Angeles County, will start requiring a $15 minimum wage in 2020. California's statewide minimum wage is scheduled to reach $15 by 2022.

Among the marchers was Noemi Flores, 37, a single mother of three who said she walked off the job Monday at the McDonald's in the 6300 block of Wilshire Boulevard to demand better pay and benefits. She also demonstrated for the right to form a union without retribution from an employer.

Melody Klingenfuss speaks during a Labor Day protest outside City Hall.
Melody Klingenfuss speaks during a Labor Day protest outside City Hall. (Michael Owen Baker / For the Times)

Hundreds of union activists gathered outside the restaurant to lend support for actions Flores described as "a risk worth taking because after seven years with McDonald's I'm only making $12 an hour."

McDonald's says its restaurant chain raised its minimum wage for employees at company-owned restaurants and offers scholarships and other educational opportunities to all of its workers. Union activists contend that wage increases should include employees at franchised outlets, which make up 90% of McDonald's roughly 14,000 stores nationwide.

Also marching were about a dozen employees at Uber, which is fighting a high-profile class-action lawsuit in California alleging that the company misclassified its drivers as independent contractors, in effect stripping them of benefits such as expense reimbursement, wage protections and sick days.

"We're sending a message today," said Tonia McMillian, a family care provider and spokeswoman for SEIU Local 99. "In this war, no one can afford to be left behind."

Demonstrators march through downtown Los Angeles during a Labor Day protest organized by the SEIU in support of a $15 per hour wage.
Demonstrators march through downtown Los Angeles during a Labor Day protest organized by the SEIU in support of a $15 per hour wage. (Michael Owen Baker / For the Times)

Twitter: @LouisSahagun

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