Jonathan Hallet said he was a little nervous, at first. Still, there he was on stage in front of 1,000 strangers at the SEIU’s Ignite conference alongside fellow member Jeremy Dupuis.
Jonathan and Jeremy told the crowd of fellow SEIU members from around the country that they are sparks and they’re ready to ignite New Hampshire. The idea of the Ignite conference was to energize those in attendance, and for the delegation from SEA/SEIU Local 1984, that’s just what it did.
“The energy there was so amazing,” Hallet said. “I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
Dupuis agreed: “The energy of the people was infectious and I find myself energized from the experience.”
Now, they’re bringing that energy back home to New Hampshire.
Hallet, who works at the Sununu Youth Services Center, and Dupuis, who works at Administrative Services, attended the SEIU conference along with Pam Sullivan, also of SYSC, Jen Cheney of DHHS and SEA staffer Michelle McCord. Ignite put a particular focus on members’ stories, and it was those stories that made the greatest impact, Sullivan said.
“The adversity that these people have overcome and are working to overcome was very emotional,” she said. “These folks are determined to fight for their rights and, in some cases, become union members. I felt lucky to be in the situation that I’m in in N.H.”
Dupuis noted the story of 200 fast food workers in New York City, who two years ago went on strike for better wages and started the Fight for $15 movement.
“Now, 170 cities across the country have joined the fight and many have raised the minimum wage to $15,” Dupuis said. “The impoverished have stood up and demanded economic justice, they demanded fair pay for their sweat, tears and blood. Here in NH we have seen repeated legislative attempts to impoverish state employees, with cuts to pensions. If 200 workers from New York City can stand up against oppressive odds, should we as NH citizens do less?”
Hallet said the Fight for $15 was something new for him, and the team found the stories and progress made by workers inspiring.
“Our team decided that we were going to bring this back to N.H. and we did,” he said.
The delegation members are helping energize the SEA’s Fight for $15 committee, which met for the first time last week, and will take part in a rally next week in Boston. You can read more about the Fight for $15 committee, including how to join and how to RSVP for the rally in Boston, here.
Dupuis said the Fight for $15 has gotten him thinking about how many issues relate to the wage inequality that low-wage workers face.
“Robert Kuttner’s book ‘Debtors’ Prison’ points out that one of the reasons that Social Security has a deficit is that wages have not grown with inflation,” Dupuis said. “The major problem with today’s minimum wage is that it has not kept up with inflation. The lack of inflationary increases means the buying power of low wage jobs is reduced and tax revenue for Social Security is decreased from low wage jobs.”
For those in the delegation, the Ignite conference certainly lived up to its name.
“I’ve become energized and ‘sparked’ to help fight for what is right for the working class,” Sullivan said.