12/03/2012 05:29 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Low-Wage Workers: Stand Up, Fight Back!

On July 24, thousands of low-wage workers across the city came together to call for better pay, good working conditions and dignity and respect on the job.

They came from a variety of industries -- car washes, airport security, food service and supermarkets, among others -- for a march and rally in New York City from Herald Square down to Union Square Park, where they were joined by striking Con Ed employees for a rally that drew thousands of people.

That rally, which included clergy, community advocates and labor unions, was the culmination of coalition-building across the spring and summer, and it drew upon the inspiration of hundreds of workers who were tired of being mistreated.

It was an uplifting moment for those of us who worked so hard to make it happen, but it was just the beginning.

Since then, employees of four car washes have voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, and employees at a fifth, the Sunny Day Car Wash in the Bronx, have gone on strike. Workers at the Golden Farm supermarket staged boycotts and won a settlement for back wages.

Across the country, workers at one of the country's largest company, Wal-Mart, went on strike, with the biggest action coming on Black Friday, the heaviest shopping day of the year.

Still, that was not the end of the protests.

On Thursday, November 29th, fast-food workers across the city began staging walkouts to protest bad pay, lousy working conditions and the lack of respect from their employers.

The $200 billion fast food industry is highly profitable, but the average pay is just $8.75 an hour, though many of the 50,000 fast food workers who live in New York City earn the minimum wage of $7.25. I know this firsthand, because as a teenage mother, I worked at Roy Rogers to support myself and my young daughter. The hours were long, and the pay was minimal, but I did what I had to do.

Now, all these workers are coming together again. On December 6, there will be a huge rally of workers and supporters joining together to push for an America that works for working people, not just the wealthy.

While many of the low-wage workers across the city come from different jobs, the story is the same: Hard-working New Yorkers deserve more in this economy. The 99 percent need a raise, which will help create jobs and grow the economy.

Here are two good examples: Chyna Scott is a 22-year-old cashier at a Bronx McDonald's on White Plains Road. She takes home $200 and must live in a homeless shelter with her three-year-old daughter because she cannot afford to rent an apartment. It takes her two hours to get to work because she must make a side trip to her mother's apartment to drop off her child.

Ana Gutierrez, 34, of the Bronx works as a maid to support her four children, ages 15, 13 and 7-year-old twins. She is supposed to make $10 an hour but her paycheck shows she is paid just $7.25. She earns no overtime, nor does her company provide health insurance or sick leave. Her company is supposed to make available her pay stubs every Friday, but they have stopped doing so.

It is no accident that these strikes and actions come at the heart of the holiday season. While many of these workers are responsible for making sure travelers arrive safely to their destinations or have presents for their kids, they can neither afford to travel, nor buy gifts, and many of them must work on the holidays. Other workers spend time preparing fast food meals, but can't afford to feed their own children.

These are basic rights that all human beings deserve. In addition to being paid fairly, they must also have the right to band together to fight for their rights and try to narrow the income inequality in this country.

But our elected officials also need to make sure that they are working for working people.

They need to pass a fair tax structure that benefits us all, not just the one percent and the big corporations that use loopholes to pay a disproportionately lower tax.

They need to prioritize the rebuilding of our infrastructure, especially after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy across New York and New Jersey, where working people lost homes, jobs and even the clothes on their backs.

And they need to pass an immigration policy that allows men, women and children to pursue the American Dream of a good job, a nice home and the freedom to pursue a college education so they can better themselves. People risk their lives to get to this country because it's the land of opportunity, but it has been allowed to become the land of the haves and the have-nots.

In the wake of President Obama's historic re-election, and significant gains in the House and Senate, we must move our country forward. It's simply the right thing to do.