Hundreds of low-wage Chicago workers and their allies hit the city's downtown streets Tuesday evening to call for a $15 an hour minimum wage, union recognition and other items on their new "voter agenda."
The protest, which started at the Thompson Center and ended with a march to a nearby McDonald's at Clark and Lake streets, was one among many Fight for $15 actions happening Tuesday in 500 U.S. cities.
Fast food and other low-wage workers chanted, "What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!"
With the 2016 general election one year away, workers also vowed to vote for political candidates who support the Fight for $15 political agenda. The agenda calls for a $15 minimum wage and union rights for low-wage workers, affordable child care, quality long-term care for seniors, comprehensive immigration reform and efforts to address racism against Black America.
"The main message today is to the politicians," Chicago McDonald's worker Douglas Hunter told Progress Illinois. "We're going to vote for candidates that have our best interest at heart."
Tuesday's nationwide minimum wage protests come three years after the Fight for $15 movement began in 2012. That's when the fast food industry was first targeted by striking employees in New York City.
"This movement has grown. Three years ago, all we were looking for was $15 and a right to form a union," Hunter said. "Now this movement has grown into a social movement, and we want to see some change in America."
There were two main Chicago Fight for $15 protests held earlier Tuesday ahead of the evening rally, attended by adjunct professors as well as airport, child care and other low-paid workers.
Among those at the rally was Doreen Chapman, who has worked as a security guard at O'Hare Airport for more than eight years. She makes just over $12 an hour.
"I'm tired of working below poverty wages," Chapman said. "Nobody can survive off of paycheck to paycheck. We need $15 an hour, because it's hard. You can barely put food on your table."
Workers saw support Tuesday night from Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), who highlighted immigrant rights as an important aspect of the workers' rights debate.
"Today in America, immigrant workers live in fear of deportation, and politicians threaten those workers, those hard-working people, with deportation. That ain't right," he told the crowd at the Thompson Center. "They call some of us immigrant workers and they call some of us American workers to divide us, to keep us from fighting together for a $15 minimum wage. Every worker, regardless of where they come from, deserves dignity and respect."
Here's more from Ramirez-Rosa plus scenes from the protest:
Matt Hoffman, an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago, also addressed the crowd at the Thompson Center. He said one-third of contingent faculty in Illinois higher education institutions live at or near the poverty level.
Hoffman pushed back against critics of the Fight for $15 movement who say low-wage workers should get a college education if they want to earn more money.
"Frankly, they're wrong," he said. "Every year, I see students graduate with more and more debt and bad job prospects, no matter their major. And even if you go on and get an advanced degree like me, employers are going to look to exploit you. And in the case of contingent faculty, I'm talking about so-called public institutions and so-called non-profit institutions. And for these reasons, faculty across the nation and across Chicago are fighting for a union."