Quick Hit Michael Joyce Monday May 2nd, 2016, 5:55pm

Fight For $15 Takes Battle For A Living Wage To Chicago Suburbs

The Fight for $15 campaign is taking their call for a wage increase and better working conditions to the Chicago suburbs. The workers' rights campaign held a rally at Evanston's Fountain Square over the weekend.

Emboldened by recent Fight for $15 victories in New York and California, speakers called out McDonald's and other low-wage employers, demanding that they at least match Chicago's recent minimum wage increase.

"We all know Evanston is becoming increasingly less welcome to low-income residents by way of rising property values and less affordable housing," said Gabriel Machabanski, of the Open Communities organization. "Equally important, but less emphasized, is the stagnant poverty wages. Chicago has taken action and increased its minimum wage. There's no reason workers on this side of Howard should be making less than $10 an hour."

Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) also spoke at the event, saying that the economic landscape of the country has changed over the last 30 years, concentrating the distribution of wealth among the elite.

"Since 1980, every time the economy improved, more and more of the benefit goes to the richest 10 percent, in fact the richest 1 percent," said Biss. "So even when the whole country gets richer, most people don't feel any improvement. The typical American family isn't better off now than it was a generation ago, and the minimum wage worker is worse off. The minimum wage is worth less today than it was 25 years ago."

Biss also decried those who say the laws of economics make wealth inequality inevitable.

"Here's the interesting thing about the people who are so sorry things have to be like this, they're the one who are benefiting," said Biss, "They're apologizing all the way to the bank. They want to trick us into thinking it has to be this way. It doesn't. This is a choice."

Fight for $15 organizers and supporters marched from the  Fountain Square to a nearby McDonald's to hand the manager a signed petition asking for a wage increase.

The door was initially locked by McDonald's staff, but  the protesters eventually made their way into the building. Evanston police arrived and escorted the demonstrators off the premises. The signed petition was not handed to the manger, but was left on the order counter.

Natalie Gottlieb, an Evanstonian, participated in the demonstration. While she doesn't work in the fast food industry, she believes everyone has the right to a living wage.

"Dealing with the economic times and cost of living and having to have these kind of entry level jobs, it just does not equate to the expensive living conditions," said Gottlieb. "It seems like it's a really popular topic in the presidential debates. People are hearing about it more. I think people are more aware of what the $15 [hourly wage] can do for people."

Tyree Johnson was also at the event. He is a McDonald's employee in Chicago. Johnson says workers are often afraid to speak out against the company because they fear reprisals, particularly immigrant workers.

"A lot of my Latino coworkers are scared to speak up because of immigration, but the Americans, what's their excuse?" Johnson asked. "Just join. They don't want to speak out because they're scared their hours will be cut. My hours [have] been cut, so what? I got a 7-Eleven job to back it up. Fight for $15 told me don't quit just stick with the job.  Once we get there, they'll look stupid."

Johnson says he refuses to be intimidated and let his bosses know that he believes in the Fight for $15 movement.

"I put my foot down. I demand respect," said Johnson. "I don't let my boss talk to me any old kind of way. My coworkers are scared. They  don't want to speak out, so I speak out for them."

"I told my boss I'm a Fight for $15 leader, and I'm not running from you. If you say anything disrespectful about the union, I'm gonna open up my mouth and say something. Every since then it's been 'good morning, how are you?'"

The Fight for $15 plans to take their campaign to West suburban Oak Park this evening, where fast food workers are still being paid an average of $8.25 an hour.

"It's at the core an issue of human dignity," said Rev. Alan Taylor, of Unity Temple Universalist Congregation in Oak Park. "Our wider community has such a gap between those who can afford what they wish and those who struggle."

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