Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Monday March 10th, 2014, 7:23pm

Chicago McDonald's Workers Celebrate International Women's Day, Call For An End To Verbal Abuse

    Fast food workers and their supporters protested at Chicago's Rock N' Roll McDonald's on Saturday afternoon to call out a restaurant manager who allegedly told an employee to "put a bullet" in her head.

Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) and the Fight for 15 campaign staged the demonstration to coincide with International Women's Day. 

Back in December, Rock N' Roll McDonald's employee Carmen Navarrette, 46, got sick on the job after having a diabetic episode. She claims her manager told her to "put a bullet in your head" after she asked to leave work due to her illness. Navarrette said her manager has not faced disciplinary action for making the alleged comments.

"(Women) are the heart and soul of McDonald's, and in honor of International Women's Day, I'm asking you to stop the verbal abuse," Navarrette said, speaking through a translator.

Those at the rally requested to speak with McDonald's management on Saturday about the alleged incident, but they were ignored. Workers carried a massive poster inside the restaurant that read, “You should just put a bullet in your head." Others held smaller signs that declared, "I am a mother" and "I am a woman."

Organizers with WOCC, a union representing fast food and retail workers in Chicago, said women represent two-thirds of the national fast food work force. A quarter of fast food workers are raising children, they said.

The union maintains that it has heard from a number of McDonald’s and fast food workers in Chicago who have reported various forms of harassment and humiliation on the job.

Chicago Alds. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and John Arena (45th) stood in solidarity with the workers at the protest, urging the company to treat its workers with respect and dignity.

"A corporation like this has more to offer than those kinds of words to a worker who dedicates her time to making sure that they're brand is represented well day in and day out," Arena said.

Rock N' Roll Mcdonald's employee, Adriana Sanchez, 41, called it "unacceptable" for any worker to be yelled at and insulted. She added that the low wages paid to McDonald's employees is also disrespectful, especially since so many are working to support their families. Sanchez, who has been employed with the fast food giant for 12 years, gets paid just $8.50 an hour, which is $0.25 more than the state's minimum wage. Although Sanchez works about 30 hours per week, she said she can barely support her family.

"A lot of my coworkers are in the same situation," Sanchez said, speaking through a translator. "We're single mothers, and we're feeling the same things. I'm here for the women [McDonald's workers] that stayed inside [the restaurant] that couldn't leave, because they were afraid."

There are some 275,000 low-wage fast food and retail workers in the Chicago area, WOCC members said. The median hourly wage for fast food workers in Chicago is about $9.07, according to the union, though many of them earn the state's minimum wage of $8.25 an hour, or just above it. The annual salary for a full-time, minimum-wage worker in Illinois is a little more than $17,000 before taxes.

Janah Bailey, 21, who works at the McDonald's at Chicago and Damen avenues, stressed the importance of female fast food workers standing up for fair treatment in the workplace.

"We are the majority, and we have to realize the power that we do have now. If we don't, it will come a day that our silence will overbear what we could have said, should have said," she stressed. "If all women were to be quiet, this [Fight for 15] movement wouldn't be this big."

Those with the Fight for 15 campaign, which has spread to cities across the nation, have been organizing for the right to form a union without retaliation and a $15 minimum wage, which is an annual salary of about $31,000. Those with the movement say such a wage is enough to cover workers' basic needs.

Late last month, Bailey and other McDonald's employees from the Chicago and Damen location delivered a petition to the store's management demanding “full-time hours, fair pay and more respect for all workers."

Following the petition delivery, Bailey, who earns $8.40 an hour, said the store's management has since provided some employees with more hours and small gifts of appreciation like water bottles, notebooks and tote bags.

Although Bailey is glad to see some change at the store, she noted that the workers still do not earn a living wage.

"My water bottle is pretty [and] my tote bag is fashionable — until I get home and realize I still can't pay my phone bill," she said.

Susan Hurley with Chicago Jobs With Justice explained how "hugely important" it is for female McDonald's workers to organize.

"They're almost all working mothers," she said at the protest. "They need to be able to advocate for themselves so that they can make the money that they need and deserve. Because they're certainly making money for McDonald's, and they need to make money for themselves."

She also pointed out that harassment and other abuses against female workers is a problem spanning various industries, not job the fast food sector.

"If women aren't organized in a way that allows them to protect themselves and advocate for themselves, they will be abused," Hurley said. "That is the clear legacy for whether it's Walmart, McDonald's, a warehouse, a grocery store. It happens over and over again."

"It shouldn't be this way in 2014, obviously, that women have to work so hard to be able to be respected and earn money that they deserve and to have the share of the wealth that they create," she added. "But that's where we're at, and that's why we have a lot of work left to do."

 A Rock N' Roll McDonald's manager declined to comment.

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