Chicago fast food workers and advocates for a living wage protested outside a downtown McDonald’s Thursday morning, demanding that the company stop mistreating its workers.
Thursday’s protest coincided with similar demonstrations at McDonald's restaurants in more than 30 countries as part of the National Guestworker Alliance’s global anti-exploitation campaign against the fast food giant.
Tyree Johnson, who has worked at McDonald’s in Chicago for 21 years, said he has been “exploited” and “disrespected” at the hands of the company.
“I complained to my boss about a raise, and I told her I’ve been evicted, and she said, ‘So what? I don’t care,’” Johnson said outside the McDonald’s at 23 S. Clark St. “So I’m here to fight and stand up for $15 a hour and support guestworkers who have been exploited also.”
In early March, student guestworkers went on strike and exposed the poor working conditions they say they experienced while working at McDonald’s in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The guestworkers say they faced threats of deportation by McDonald’s franchise management, were given as few as four work hours a week while earning a $7.25 an hour wage, and dealt with high housing deductions, putting their net pay far below the minimum wage.
Later that month, the student guestworkers visited Chicago and held a workers’ rights teach-in at the Rock N’ Roll McDonald’s and lent their support to the organizing Chicago fast food workers.
Most of the student guestworkers have now headed back to their home countries, which is why they have called for a global day of action, said Deivid Rojas with the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.
Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a union for downtown fast food and retail workers, went on a massive strike April 24. They demanded $15 an hour as well as the right to form a union without retaliation. Read Progress Illinois' full report on the strike here.
“That’s my plea right there,” Johnson said. “I want the rights.”
Many members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago are employed at McDonald’s, Rojas said.
“They don’t have a livable wage,” Rojas pointed out. “They don’t have benefits. Some have long hours, some of them have shorter hours.”
Later into Thursday's protest, the demonstrators attempted to enter the restaurant to deliver a letter against McDonald’s worker practices, which was addressed to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson. But security barred them from entering.
Johnson, who is employed at that particular location, asked if just he could enter, so he could deliver the letter to his boss. He was also told ‘no.’
The letter demands that McDonald’s "agree to end exploitation and retaliation of the international guestworkers recruited to work in all U.S. stores; and guarantee freedom of association and the right to organize without retaliation for all of McDonald’s workers worldwide.” The letter is signed by more than 40 unions and organizations from around the world.
Robert Wilson Jr., who works at the McDonald’s at Navy Pier, said the company is taking advantage of its workers. Employees at McDonald’s do not receive paid sick days or time-and-a-half compensation, Wilson explained.
“We’re out here because we work too hard for these companies to be exploited, to feel underpaid even when were getting full-time,” he said.
McDonald's workers put in full-time hours, yet they do not take home a living wage to take care of their basic needs, Wilson noted. Even some of the full-time workers at McDonald’s have to rely on government assistance, he said.
Here’s more from Wilson and scenes from the protest:
Rojas said workers have continued to send McDonald’s the message that working conditions need to change.
“Unfortunately, McDonald’s has continued to claim that they treat their workers with dignity and respect, and there’s a lot of opportunity, when in fact most of these workers have no benefits, they’re earning the minimum wage, they have no sick leave,” he said.
Many of the workers are also raising families.
“They don’t have enough to raise a family here,” Rojas stressed.
Other protests are also expected to take place Thursday in Belgium, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, India and other countries.