The Rock and Roll McDonald’s in River North was mostly empty Thursday morning. Then the congresswoman, the Hamburglar and the group of protesters walked in.
“They said if you want to make a purchase, you’re welcome to do so,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told the strikers after speaking to a security official. Everyone laughed.
Chicago was one of 50 cities in which workers walked off the job Thursday as part of the “Fight for 15” movement for a living wage, timed to fall between the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Labor Day.
They gathered in front of the cash registers, read a list of demands—higher wages, the right to unionize without retaliation, better working conditions—and waited for a manager to respond. When nobody did, they left the list on the counter and went back to the street.
“I feel excited and I feel the power,” said Ariadna Salgado, 31, who works at the McDonald’s that the protesters had rallied in. She makes $8.45 an hour; 20 cents more than the minimum wage.
“They think we are crazy or something,” she said of some of her co-workers. “Staring at us like they don’t know what.”
Fast-food companies as well as business groups have said that restaurant wages are low because they are meant to be starting points.
"Our history is full of examples of individuals who worked their first job with McDonald's and went on to successful careers both within and outside of McDonald's," the company said in a statement.
“The minimum wage was never intended to provide a living for a family,” Jay Shattuck of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce told RedEye earlier this year. “It’s low-skilled, but an opportunity for people to move up or go find another job.”
This is the third major strike by low-wage workers in Chicago since April. The previous protests have had mixed results, according to workers. Salgado said she got a 20-cent raise after striking in July.
Andrew Little, 26, works at the Victoria’s Secret on Michigan Avenue. His wages were raised from minimum wage to $11.26 an hour after a Fight for 15 strike in April, but his bosses became stricter about other things.
“[There’s] zero tolerance for lateness,” he said. “If I clock in at 6:01, they’ll write me up.”
Little was wearing a giant cardboard Ronald McDonald Mask. Colin Smythe, 22, was dressed as the Hamburglar. He said he hadn’t told his boss at Potbelly he was on strike.
“We kind of surprised him,” he said. “15 [dollars] and a union. I just straight-up want to pay my bills.”
Schakowsky said the strikers had “a really reasonable and simple request: to be paid a living wage. $15 an hour and the right to form a union. …
“They could buy things. They could create millions of jobs,” she said, pointing out that minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.
Mary Harris, 64, makes $9.33. She has worked at Wendy’s for 11 years and said she struggles to pay all her bills. She got a 15 cent raise in July after requesting one for months.
“I think we all deserve more,” she said. “These companies, they have a choice. … That’s why I’m out here.”
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