Workers fighting for higher wages and the right to unionize began a series of day-long rallies and speak-outs this morning in what organizers say will be the largest mobilization of low wage workers to date. Coordinated protests by the Fight for 15 movement and its allies are taking place in more than 200 cities in 30 countries with workers from multiple industries demanding a $15 an hour wage and better working conditions.
In Chicago, workers and their supporters rallied at numerous McDonald's locations across the city, beginning with an early morning demonstration that drew 200 at a South Side restaurant location at 8321 S. Ashland. The protests, led by fast food workers, have also drawn home care, child care and airport workers as well as college students, adjunct professors and Brink's armored car and armed security guards.
"I scrap and scrape and stress all day, every day," said Douglas Hunter, a 53-year-old maintenance worker at a McDonald's location on Chicago's West side. Hunter, who has a 16-year-old daughter, has participated in numerous strikes for more than a year. He said low wages contribute to the degradation of neighborhoods.
"When I look around my community, I don't see a whole lot of domestic tranquility," said Hunter. "We see a lot of crime and violence in our neighborhoods as a direct result of these starvation wages. If we were paid better wages, that would bring more money into the community. More young people would go to jobs like McDonald's instead of standing on a street corner. This is all they have to resort to in order to feed their families."
Here's more from today's protest:
According to a study from the University of Chicago, the majority of all food preparation and service jobs are held by non-white workers. Nearly half of Chicago's Latino workforce hold low-wage positions, and one in three African Americans hold a low-wage job.
"Economic justice is racial justice," said Maxx Boykin, an organizer with the group Black Youth Project 100. His group plans to bring about 500 young African Americans to the larger Fight for $15 rally scheduled for later today. "Black people historically have only been able to get fair wages, unions, and access to good jobs through direct action, strikes and protest."
Boykin said he has struggled with the woes that come with working low wage jobs.
"After rent was due, after I had to put gas in my car and food on the table, I didn't have anything. Many times I didn't even have enough for food," he explained.
Boykin, Hunter and more than one hundred other demonstrators rallied outside of McDonald's restaurant at 5153 W. Chicago. About two dozen Brink's security guards took part in that protest after walking off the job earlier in the day.
"We put our lives on the line and have a very dangerous job working 45 to 60 hours in a week," said Alex Alvarez, an armored truck driver who has worked for the company for a year and a half. "This isn't just a McDonald's problem, this isn't just a Brink's problem. It isn't even a Chicago problem - it's a problem nationwide. We need to be heard today."
Organizers say the increasing size and frequency of protests calling for economic justice and higher wages has affected fast food and other low wage industry giants. McDonald's has come under increased scrutiny for their labor practices both in the United States and abroad. The National Labor Relations Board is currently holding hearings surrounding alleged labor law violations that consider the McDonald's corporation a "joint employer" with its franchises. Last month, the company announced plans to raise wages for its corporate store employees by $1.00 an hour, which affects some 90,000 employees. Three U.S. cities have passed a $15 an hour minimum wage, and Chicago recently passed a minimum wage increase that will see the figure hit $13 an hour by 2019.
For workers like Delores Leonard, a 29-year-old McDonald's employee at a franchise on the South Side of Chicago, the McDonald's corporate wage increase is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough.
"It's good that they got theirs, but we're still fighting to get ours," she said.
Leonard, a single mother of two who has worked for the company for seven years and currently makes $8.90 an hour, said that after participating in three strikes, she received a 65-cent raise.
"I'm out here to keep working for my $15 and keep fighting for it," said Leonard.
Hunter, who along with Leonard and Boykin, plans on attending the culmination of today's demonstrations at a massive rally that will start at the University of Illinois. Hunter said he is also striking for his fellow co-workers in hopes that they would join him.
"Some people take longer to take a step," Hunter said. "Some people have never heard of their rights and to see someone actually exercising those rights, it helps them to understand that they have that right. I'm standing here today to let my coworkers know that they do have rights. We must be treated with dignity and respect."
Check back with Progress Illinois for coverage of the afternoon Fight for $15 protests.