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Chicago Fast-Food and Retail Workers Walk Off Jobs in Unprecedented Seven-City Strike Wave
Chicago Workers Among Thousands Walking Off the Job in Historic Week of Strikes
Fight for 15 Workers Call for $15 and Right to Form a Union Without Retaliation or Unfair Labor Practices; Aim to Get Economy Moving Again; Community, Political Support Grows
WASHINGTON - July 31 - Chicago fast-food and retail workers walked off their jobs today as part of an unprecedented week of strikes in seven cities across the country including New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Flint.
Calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices, workers walked off their jobs today at a Whole Foods store in Lakeview and at McDonald’s in Albany Park and Brighton Park. The strikes will expand and spread tomorrow, reaching major national fast-food and retail outlets in the Loop and Magnificent Mile including Subway, Macy’s, Wendy’s, Forever 21, Potbelly, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Bed Bath & Beyond, Chik-fil-A, Nordstrom Rack, Caffé Baci, Nike, Protein Bar, Mrs. Fields, Sears, Jason’s Deli and Victoria’s Secret.
This is the second time members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago have gone on strike—with the first wave of Chicago strikes hitting dozens of fast food and retail outlets in the Loop and Magnificent Mile on April 24. That initial day of strikes won workers a wide range of victories, from substantial pay increases to improved working conditions.
Outside a McDonald’s in Albany Park early this morning surrounded by a crowd of community supporters, Tyree Johnson proclaimed, “I am fighting for $15 because I have been working at McDonald’s for 21 years with only a 30-cent raise and I deserve better. I am also striking for my co-workers, my family, and community.”
The strikes are the latest in an escalating series of walkouts by workers across the country. Federally-contracted workers in Washington have walked off their jobs; a growing group of Walmart workers have gone on strike; and fast-food workers across the country went on strike earlier this year.
“The workers’ action will lift up all of Chicago,” said Carlos Cardenas, Vice President of ONE Northside. “If they have more money in their pockets, they’ll spend it right here, helping to boost the entire economy.”
Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors. Elected leaders and others are citing evidence that stagnating wages and the proliferation of low-wage jobs are hampering the nation’s recovery:
In a recent speech, Federal Reserve Board Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin suggested the types of jobs beingcreated are slowing the recovery. “Those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of therecovery,” she said.
And marking the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act last month, Vice President Joe Biden said that raising the minimum wage would not only help 15 million Americans afford their groceries, but lift the economy overall. “Think of the impact that will have on the economy…a little extra money in the hands of so many consumers.”
Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many service workers across the country earn minimum wage or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children.
“SEIU members, like all service-sector workers, are worse off when large fast food and retail companies are able to hold down wages and push down benefit standards for working people,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. “That's why SEIU members are proud to give support to fast food and retail workers who are fighting for higher wages that will boost the economy for all of us.”
Several national labor groups across the country are supporting the campaign. Change to Win is providing research and communications support. An array of local labor groups representing workers ranging from grocery clerks to teachers to teamsters are also backing the workers’ campaigns in each city.
“It’s unacceptable that right now, our fastest-growing jobs don’t pay enough for workers to afford rent, food and clothes,” said Bob King, UAW president. “If our economy is going to recover, profitable corporations should pay their workers a living wage, and that’s exactly what these workers are demanding by uniting.”