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Strike Wave by Fast Food and Retail Workers Spreads to Chicago
Inspired by Walmart and New York City Fast Food Walkouts, Hundreds of Chicago Workers Strike Dozens of Major National Fast Food and Retail Stores
Fight for 15’s Unprecedented Action Calls for $15 and the Right to Form a Union Without Interference; Aims to Get Chicago’s Economy Moving Again
WASHINGTON - April 24 - Hundreds of workers at Chicago’s largest fast food and retail chains walked off their jobs today, calling for $15 an hour and the right to form a union free from retaliation. The unprecedented combined fast-food and retail walkout – hitting major national stores like McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret and Sears – marks the latest in a string of strikes in low-wage industries that began last fall at Walmarts across the country andcontinued at fast-food restaurants in New York City.
“Workers across the country are tired. We’re tired of working hard, but not earning enough to support our families,” said Krystal Collins, a Macy’s worker. “After seeing the workers in New York say they weren’t going to take it anymore, we were inspired to go on strike right here in Chicago.”
Wednesday’s action follows a nationwide Black Friday strike by Walmart workers and comes just weeks after 400 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City—the biggest-ever strike to hit the industry. Low-wage jobs have accounted for thebulk of new jobs added in the recovery,and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors.Chicago workers, likethose around the country, are increasingly joining together to fight for higher wages that will lift the economy. The walkout came the same day that hundreds of Walmart workers and community leaders led delegations into stores calling on managers nationwide to provide more hours and transparent scheduling.
This latest strike comes amid growing concern from economists and other experts that the proliferation of low-wage work is hampering the nation’s recovery. In a speech earlier this month, Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin suggested
the types of jobs being created are slowing the recovery. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” she said. It also comes as major national companies like McDonald’sand Walmartare facing increasing questions about whether low wages are causing breakdowns in customer service.
The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago campaign, Fight for 15, seeks to put money back in thepockets of the 275,000 men and women who work hard in the Chicago-area’s fast food and retail outlets but still can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent. A single adult Chicagoan with a child actually needs tomake nearly $21 an hour to get by, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.If workers were paid more, they’d spend more, helping to get Chicago’s economy moving again.
“It would take me about 777 years to earn as much as the McDonald’s CEO made last year,” said Tyree Johnson, a McDonald’s worker. “I’m not asking for all that, just for enough to pay my train fare without having to worry about taking food off the table.”
Fast food and retailworkers bring more than $4 billion a year into the cash registers of the Magnificent Mile and the Loop alone, yet most of these workers earn Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25, or just above it, and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children.
In Chicago, jobs that are considered low-wage now make up about a third of all jobs,and this proportion has increased significantlyover the last decade. While the fast-food industry promotes the stereotype that fast-food workers are teenagers earning pocketmoney, nationally, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28 years old,and women in those jobs have a median age of over 32 years. More than half of Chicago’s low-wage workers are older than 30. Chicago workers, like those around the country, are increasingly joining together to fight for higher wages that will lift the economy.
“Low-wage jobs are the fastest growing jobs in the United States, but these workers can’t even afford to pay for rent and food,” said the Rev. Liz Muñoz, Associate Priest at St. James Cathedral. “If these workers get a living wage, they would spend that money at local businesses in Chicago and help get our economy back on track.”
Founded in November of 2012, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago is a union of downtown fast food and retail workers. The workers’ Fight for 15 campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without interference. The Fight for 15 campaign is supported by a coalition of dozens of community, labor and faith-based groups including: Action Now; Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Arise Chicago; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Chicago Teachers Union; Grassroots Collaborative; Illinois Hunger Coalition; Jane Addams Senior Caucus; Lakeview Action Coalition; Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP); SEIU Local 1; SEIU Local 73; SEIU Healthcare Illinois; Indiana, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation; United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Western Region; and Workers United.