PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday September 4th, 2014, 4:15pm

Chicagoland Fast Food Workers Strike For Higher Wages; 31 Arrests Made (VIDEO)

Chicago fast food workers escalated their fight on Thursday for a $15 hourly wage and union rights by participating in acts of civil disobedience during a nationwide day of strikes. Progress Illinois was there for today's protests.

Chicago fast food workers escalated their fight on Thursday for a $15 hourly wage and union rights by participating in acts of civil disobedience during a nationwide day of strikes.

Dozens of local fast food employees were taken into police custody — and 31 were arrested — after blocking the street in front of fast food chains at two separate walkouts today, one in Chicago and another in Cicero, that drew hundreds of low-wage workers and their supporters.

Fast food workers were arrested today in several of the 150 U.S. cities where protests for higher wages took place, including Detroit and New York.

This morning on Chicago's South Side in Chatham, activists protested outside of a McDonald's and Burger King located across the street from one another near 87th Street and Wabash Avenue. Nineteen protestors were detained by Chicago police after they held a sit-in on 87th Street and refused to move. The 19 activists were taken to the 6th District station at 7808 S. Halsted and issued citations, according to Chicago police news affairs. There were no arrests, said Chicago Police Department Officer Anna Pacheco.

At the morning protest, Chicago McDonald's worker Douglas Hunter, 53, said the civil disobedience comes in an effort to ramp up pressure on fast food corporations. During a July convention in Villa Park, more than 1,300 fast food workers from across the country unanimously adopted a resolution to take nonviolent direct action when necessary as a means to escalate their Fight for 15 campaign.

"We feel we need to up the issue," he said. "We've done the same thing over and over again, so we're stepping it up this year. We're letting them know how serious we are."

The other protest was held in the early afternoon outside of a McDonald's restaurant in the town of Cicero at 2827 S. Cicero Ave. 

Activists sat down in the middle of Cicero Avenue near 29th Street and blocked traffic at the busy intersection. Thirty-one protestors were arrested and charged with "misdemeanor reckless conduct," said town of Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania.   

Hanania noted that Cicero Avenue is one of the busiest roadways in Northern Illinois.

"For us, it was a matter of public safety," he said of the arrests, adding that town officials reached out to the fast food organizers ahead of the demonstration in an attempt to find a new, safe location for the protest.

"They didn't want to do that," he told Progress Illinois.

The town of Cicero issued an official statement, which in part said:

The Cicero Police arrested and charged 31 individuals on Thursday for disrupting traffic and placing themselves in harms way. The 31 individuals, men and women, were among 300 protestors who gathered at 29th and Cicero Avenue as a part of a national demonstration in support of raising the minimum wage.
 
Cicero Town President Larry Dominick and officials of the Town of Cicero support the State raising the minimum wage and we offered to work with the protest organizers to find a safer location where they could make their point, but the organizers refused.
 
Police blocked off Cicero Avenue, one of the most heavily trafficked streets in Northern Illinois and urged the public yesterday to seek alternative routes to avoid the protests which we anticipated.

Here's video of the afternoon protest in Cicero, including the arrests:

Thursday marks the sixth time Chicago fast-food workers have participated in a major strike as part of the Fight for 15 campaign's call for union recognition and a $15 minimum wage, which is a yearly salary of about $31,000.

The Fight for 15 campaign has spread across the country — and the globe — since fast food workers in New York City first walked off their jobs in November of 2012.

Locally, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), a union of fast food and retail workers, has spearheaded the movement. 

There are some 275,000 low-wage fast food and retail workers in the Chicago meto area, according to WOCC. 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. 

In addition to the civil disobedience, there was another key difference between Thursday's strike and previous fast food walkouts. This time, home health care workers hit the picket lines with the fast food strikers in Chicago and other cities as the Fight for 15 campaign grows into a larger movement for higher wages.

O.J. Mcgee, a Chicago home care aid and a SEIU Healthcare Illinois member, said workers who provide supports to seniors and those with disabilities deserve a living wage.

"I'm stepping up and joining this Fight for 15 because I don't want to continue working multiple jobs [and] still have to struggle," said Mcgee, 37, a single father who is also a certified nursing assistant. "Home care workers have been inspired by fast food workers and recognize that we all work hard for low pay, and it's time to change that.

"Whether you're flipping burgers, working the cash register or preparing healthy meals for seniors and people with disabilities, people who work hard should be paid properly."

Organizers with Action Now, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and other groups attended today's events.

"It's very important to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It would only help the economy," said Gloria Warner, president of Action Now. "People need this money badly to survive. They're barely surviving on $8.25, so we need to raise the minimum wage today."

Chicago Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd) as well as U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL,9), also stood in solidarity with the workers.

"I believe that it is unconscionable that someone has to work 40 plus hours a week and still be considered living in poverty," Sawyer said at the morning protest, which took place in his ward. "I think it's just wrong for someone to work all these hours and all these years ... and yet not be able to afford the food where they work. It makes no sense.

"When people earn more, they spend more," he continued. "When you hear big corporations state that they cannot afford to pay $15 an hour, it's just wrong."

Here's more from the morning protest, including comments from McDonald's worker Brittney Berry and Anna Howard, a non-union home care worker:

Gutierrez attended the afternoon event, which was held in his 4th congressional district. 

"McDonald's makes billions and billions of dollars and it continues to increase (its) profits on the backs of workers," Gutierrez said. "I say to anybody that doesn't believe that they should earn $15 an hour, you try to work at McDonald's for 40 hours a week and do 10 hours of overtime, and see if you can pay the rent. See if you can pay the heating bill."

When asked about the workers' strategy to take part in civil disobedience, Gutierrez said, "I think there's a long legacy in America of using peaceful, nonviolent, civil disobedience to make your point. And I think that's what they're doing. They're making their point.

"They're ready to put at risk their liberty and their freedom," the congressman added. "I think they're showing a lot of courage."

The Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, agreed.

"I think these workers are incredibly courageous, and what they're doing out here today is not only for themselves, but for their kids and their grandkids," she said at the Cicero protest. "We all know that no one can survive on the minimum wage right now. They need to support their families, get their medical and physical needs met, be able to buy an extra pair of shoes every time the kid grows to a new shoe size. I think what they're doing is heroic."

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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