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Chicago Fast-Food and Retail Strikes Spread From Neighborhoods to Loop and Magnificent Mile
During 2nd Day of Strikes, Hundreds of Workers Walk off Jobs
CHICAGO - August 1 - Hundreds of Chicago fast-food and retail workers walked off their jobs today in the Loop and the Magnificent Mile, in the city’s second day of strikes. Today’s strikes followed strikes Wednesday in Albany Park, Brighton Park and Lakeview and are 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.
A few minutes after 7 a.m., workers at a Loop Subway location walked off the job, leaving a lone manager behind to tend to business, to the cheers of fellow members of Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago and community supporters.
“I’m striking because I can’t afford to provide my family with the basics,” said Subway worker Felix Mendez, who makes just $8.25 an hour despite two years on the job. “I serve food all day long but I have to work two jobs so my children don’t go hungry.”
A little over an hour later, Wendy’s workers walked off the job at the Clark and Madison location and managers closed up shop, locking the restaurant’s doors.
Throughout the day, strikers at Subway and multiple other low-wage employers—including 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—will continue the call for a living wage of $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation or unfair labor practices.
“I’m striking because it’s time that corporate executives started worrying about our wellness,” said 64-year-old Walgreens worker Elmer Reed Jr. who relied upon his walker to walk a strike line outside the national drugstore chain later in the morning. “I’m proud that Walgreens focuses on customer service—and prouder still that we really show customers we care about them at my store. But Walgreens needs to care enough about us to pay us enough to live on. I can’t even start to save for retirement. After 15 years on the job, I still have to worry about day-to-day.”
"The excitement is contagious," said Walgreens worker Alex Yekulis, a few feet behind Reed in the strike line. "We have a coworker who wasn't planning on going on strike, but who just decided to walk out with us."
As the strikes hit first one, then another major national chain outlet in downtown Chicago, workers are being supported by crowds of hundreds of working Chicagoans from diverse neighborhoods throughout the city.
“Retail and fast food outlets in the Magnificent Mile and the Loop are among the country’s most profitable, but their workers take home poverty wages to the city’s poorest neighborhoods,” said Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now. “We’re here to support striking workers because we know that they need and deserve a living wage to support their families. And every dollar invested in a living wage will raise up the economy for all of the city’s neighborhoods.”
The day will wrap up in the early evening with a mass rally and press conference at Navy Pier. Victoria’s Secret worker Andrew Little plans to close the day by speaking out about the importance of the strikes for the workers in attendance.
“I went on strike on April 24th because I need and deserve a living wage of $15 an hour and respect on the job,” Little said referencing this spring’s strike by Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago. “After that strike, I won a $2.26 raise and more respect on the job. That was a wonderful feeling, but I need more and we all need more. We need enough to put a roof over our heads, enough to feed our children and to take them to the doctor when they’re sick. We need enough to save for retirement and to buy clothes for our children when they outgrow them. It’s not a lot to ask and we’re going to keep asking for it—and keep demanding it—until we get it.”
The fast food and retail strikes this week in Chicago and across the country are drawing attention to the low-wage jobs that have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery. Retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors.
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.”