50 Chicago Fast Food Workers Arrested as Fight For $15 And Union Rights Intensifies

50 Chicago Fast Food Workers Arrested as Fight For $15 And Union Rights Intensifies

Thousands walk off their jobs in 150 cities, calling for higher pay, union rights

CHICAGO– 50 Chicago fast-food workers from McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s were among the more than hundreds of cooks, cashiers and maintenance workers arrested Thursday as the fight for $15 and the right to form a union intensified across the country.

From Charleston, SC to Chicago, Ill., workers walked off their jobs and took arrests to show that they can’t wait any longer for companies like McDonald’s to raise their pay. Workers went on strike at more than 1,000 stores, chanting “We Believe That We Will Win,” and vowing to do whatever it takes to secure higher wages and union rights.

In Chicago workers walked off their jobs from dozens of fast food restaurants across the city.

“We are doing whatever it takes because we can’t wait any longer,” said Brittney Berry, a mother of a 2-year-old daughter and McDonald’s employee. “We never stop trying to get back on our feet, even when hard times knock us down. My family can’t wait any longer. I know we are so close to winning and that’s why I’m going to continue fighting until the end.” Brittney was among the workers who were arrested.

Workers protested at Burger King and McDonald’s at 29 E. 87th St and 2827 S. Cicero Ave. Workers and community supporters chanted and rallied, holding signs reading “Whatever It Takes” and chanting “$8.25 is not enough” and “What do we want? $15. When do we want it? Now.” In both locations workers then rallied into the street and sat and engaged in civil disobedience until they were arrested. While the arrests were happening, workers and community supporters sang, “We’re fighting for 15, we shall not be moved, We’re fighting for 15, we shall not be moved, Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, We shall not be moved.” In the morning location workers sat on 87th St. for about 25 minutes and in the afternoon workers sat on Cicero Ave. for approximately one hour. Protests in both locations were peaceful and respectful.

Workers were taken to police facilities, where they were later released.

Alderman Sawyer of the 6th Ward and Alderman Muñoz of the 22nd ward joined the morning protest, while Rep. Luis Gutierrez and Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Alderman Muñoz joined the worker strikers at Cicero.

Support also came from around the world. Fast-food workers from three continents traveled to the U.S. to participate in strike lines in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Raleigh

“I am here in solidarity with all my McDonald’s co-workers in the United States for the fight for a living wage, respect, and labor rights” said Francis Cabrera, a unionized Argentinian McDonald’s worker. “In Argentina, McDonald’s workers have benefits, vacation time, sick-days, and healthcare and it should be the same for workers in the United States.”

Also Thursday, fast-food workers announced a six-country, three-continent fall tour, during which they’ll meet with fast-food workers to share lessons of their campaign. They will visit with unionized McDonald’s workers making living wages of more than $20 an hour in countries like Denmark and non-union workers who earn low wages in countries like Brazil.

Inspired by the fast-food workers, a growing number of underpaid service workers are joining the movement to boost pay standards. In Chicago, Boston, and Atlanta, home care workers who provide support and services for seniors and stood alongside fast-food workers.

“Fast food workers and home care workers are united and we’re ready to keep growing this movement for $15 an hour. I believe that whether you’re flipping burgers, working a cash register, or preparing a healthy meal for a senior or person with a disability, people who work hard should earn enough to cover basic necessities and provide for their families,” said OJ McGee, home care worker from the Southside of Chicago.

Thursday’s strike follows a series of major victories for fast-food workers. In July, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel determined that, despite McDonald’s repeated claims, the company is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions. For nearly two years, McDonald’s and other fast-food workers have been joining together and going on strike, calling for $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation. But time and time again, the company and other industry players have tried to sidestep workers’ calls, inventing a make-believe world in which responsibility for wages and working conditions falls squarely on the shoulders of franchisees.

The NLRB move shows that McDonald’s can no longer hide behind its franchisees for the poor and often illegal treatment of workers. The government’s determination is the latest challenge to the fast-food industry’s low-wage business model, in which franchisors reap rewards of a profitable industry, while forcing franchisees to shoulder all the risk. In March, McDonald’s workers in three states filed class-action lawsuits against the company, alleging widespread wage theft. The New York Times wrote that the suits, “argue that both the corporate parent and the independently owned franchises where many of the plaintiffs work are jointly responsible for illegal pay practices carried out by the franchises…That strikes at the heart of the low-wage fast-food business model.”

And last month, the California state legislature passed a bill that expands the rights of franchisees statewide and brings greater balance to the franchisor-franchisee relationship. Huffington Post wrote that the fast-food industry “lost a really big fight,” while MSNBC called the bill a “major blow” to fast-food chains. By protecting franchisees from being put out of business arbitrarily and ensuring they can sell to qualified buyers, the legislature took a critical step toward correcting the imbalance of power between franchisors and the franchisees and workers who contribute to the success of fast-food restaurants in California.

A campaign that started in New York City in November 2012, with 200 fast-food workers walking off their jobs demanding $15 and the right to form a union without retaliation, has since spread to more than 150 cities in every region of the country, including the South. The growing fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said that it has “entirely changed the politics of the country.” Since the campaign launched, nearly 7 million low-wage workers have seen their wages rise. What seemed like a far-fetched goal–$15 an hour–is now a reality in Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers.”

As it spreads, the movement is challenging fast-food companies’ outdated notion that their workers are teenagers looking for pocket change. Today’s workers are mothers and fathers struggling to raise children on wages that are too low. And they’re showing the industry that if it doesn’t raise pay, it will continue to be at the center of the national debate on what’s wrong with our economy.

As corporations push down real wages for average American workers, a growing number of economists warn that low wages are a barrier to growth that are harming the overall U.S. economy.

Not only do fast-food jobs pay so little that a majority of industry workers are forced to rely on public assistance, but many workers don’t even see all of the money they earn. In addition to the class-action suits filed against McDonald’s alleging widespread and systematic wage theft, a poll by Hart research showed 89% of fast-food workers have had money stolen from their checks.

The fast-food worker campaign has fast-food companies back on their heels. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, McDonald’s said worker protests might force it to raise wages this year. A recent report shows the industry has by far the largest disparity between worker and CEO pay. New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said, “Excessive pay disparities pose a risk to share owner value,” and that conversations around inequality should move into the boardrooms of profitable fast-food companies.

USA Today called the growing worker movement, “the issue that just won’t go away” for the fast-food industry. Indeed, Thursday’s arrests show that rather than going away, the movement is only growing stronger.

Fast-food workers went on strike in the following U.S. cities:

Alameda, CA; Atlanta, GA; Auburn Hills, MI; Aurora, CO; Baton Rouge, LA; Bellevue, PA; Bellfontaine, MO; Berkeley, CA; Bloomfield, CT; Boston, MA; Brookfield, WI; Burton, MI; Cambridge, MA; Central Falls, RI; Chapel Hill, NC; Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Chicago, IL; Claymont, DE; Dearborn Heights, MI; Decatur, GA; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Dublin, CA; Durham, NC; East Greenwich, RI; Eastpointe, MI; El Cerrito, CA; El Monte, CA; Elsmere, DE; Fairfield, CA; Farmington Hills, MI; Farmville, NC; Ferguson, MO; Ferndale, MI; Fitchburg, WI; Flint, MI; Flint Township, MI; Florissant, MO; Forsynth, MO; Fremont, CA; Germantown, WI; Glendale, CA; Glendale, WI; Goldsboro, NC; Grandview, MO; Greendale, WI; Greenfield, WI; Greensboro, NC; Greenville, NC; Hamden, CT; Hamtramck, MI; Harper Woods, MI; Hartford, CT; Harvey, LA; Hayward, CA; Henderson, NV; Henrico, VA; High Point, NC; Highland Park, MI; Hillsborough, NC; Houston, TX; Huntington Park, CA; Independence, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Inglewood, CA; Jacksonville, AR; James Island, SC; Jennings, MO; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Kirkwood, MO; Knightdale, NC; Lakewood, CO; Lansing, MI; Las Vegas, NV; Lee’s Summit, MO; Lincoln Park, MI; Little Rock, AR; Littleton, CO; Livonia, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Luling, LA; Madison, WI; Maryland Heights, MO; Melvindale, MI; Memphis, TN; Miami, FL; Miami Beach, FL; Miami Gardens, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Monona, WI; Nashville, TN; New Castle, DE; New Haven, CT; New York, NY; New Orleans, LA; North Charleston, SC; North Kansas City, MO; North Las Vegas, NV; North Little Rock, AR; Oak Park, MI; Oakland, CA; Opelika, AL; Orlando, FL; Overland Park, KS; Peoria, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pine Bluf, AR; Pittsburgh, PA; Pleasanton, CA; Plymouth, NC; Pontiac, MI; Raleigh, NC; Raytown, MO; Redford, MI; Redford Township, MI; Richmond, CA; Richmond, VA; River Rouge, MI; Rochester, NY; Rock Hill, MO; Rockford, IL; Sacramento, CA; Saint Rose, LA; San Diego, CA; San Leandro, CA; San Lorenzo, CA; Slidell, LA; Somerset, MA; Southfield, MI; Southaven, MS; Spanish Lake, MO; Springfield, MO; St. Louis, MO; Tampa, FL; Taylor, CA; Taylor, MI; Temple Terrace, FL; Tucson, AZ; Union City, CA; Union City, GA; University City, MO; Warren, MI; Warwick, RI; Waterford, MI; Wausau, WI; Wauwatosa, WI; Wayne, MI; West Allis, WI; West Milwaukee, WI; Westin, WI; Westview, PA; Wilkinsburg, PA; Williamston, NC; Wilmington, DE; Windsor Locks, CT.

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