Chicago Fast-Food Workers Strike as Home Care Workers Join Them In Calls For $15, Union Rights
Pressure Campaign Backed by Fast-Food Giant Fails to Hide Obvious Fact that McDonald’s Is The Boss
Across the Country, Push for Higher Pay Spreads as Convenience Store Cashiers, Discount Store Clerks, Airport Cleaners and Ramp Workers, Walmart Associates, Federally-Contracted Service Workers Call for $15/Hr
In Just Two Years, Fast Food Cooks and Cashiers Have Sparked Broad Movement to Lift Wages for Families Living on the Brink—8 Million Low-Wage Workers Have Seen Raises
CHICAGO—Two years after 200 New York City fast-food workers walked off their jobs, sparking a nationwide movement for $15 and union rights, cooks and cashiers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and other major national chains went on strike Thursday in Chicago along with fast-food workers in more than 190 cities— the most ever. Home care workers in Chicago also protested Thursday alongside their clients, as the movement of workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities doubles in reach since its launch in September.
Nationally, striking fast-food workers were joined for the first time by convenience store clerks and dollar-store workers in two-dozen cities, including Chicago.Baggage handlers, skycaps, wheelchair attendants and aircraft cleaners from 10 major airports supported the fast-food strikers as the Fight for $15 movement continued its spread to new industries. The Home Care Workers’ Fight for $15, which launched in September, more than tripled in size, reaching 19 cities from coast to coast. Also Thursday, federally-contracted food service workers at a gigantic McDonald’s location at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, went on strike, joining the call for $15/hour.
In Chicago workers walked off their jobs from dozens of fast food locations across the city.
“I’m on strike today because my family needs $15,” said Adriana Sanchez, a McDonald’s worker and widowed mother of four daughters. “Even though two days ago Chicago raised its wage to $13, my family can’t wait until 2019. I know that we can win $15 because today we have workers from different industries now in the fight with us, we are now much stronger. They saw that we were winning and didn’t want to miss out.”
At 4:30 AM workers gathered at the flagship Rock N’ Roll McDonald’s in the River North Neighborhood. The protest began with a moment of silence in solidarity with Ferguson, New York, and the national Hands Up movement. After, the workers chanted and rallied, holding signs reading “Strike For 15” and chanting “They want $13, we need $15” and “What do we want? $15. When do we want it? Now.” At 4:45 AM, Daryel Eatmonds, a worker from the BP across the street walked off his job to join the protests, shutting down the gas station. At 7:00 AM and 9:30 AM hundreds of community supporters, home care, and Walmart workers joined the workers at the McDonald’s at 23 S. Clark and then marched to different fast food locations around the loop. A giant holiday grinch puppet also jointed the march. At the Adams and Wabash CTA stop the workers help up a large “Fight For 15” banner. The protests finished with a brief stop at the Illinois Restaurant Association and a bilingual “mic check.”
Workers went on strike in every region of the country at major fast-food restaurants including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell and Domino’s. The fast-food movement continued to spread, with workers walking off their jobs for the first time in Jackson, Miss., Knoxville, Tenn., Buffalo, NY, Olympia, WA and dozens of smaller cities and towns.
Across the country, workers reacted to the recent decisions not to indict police officers in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY by beginning their strike actions a with a minute of silence and their hands held over their heads. Workers decided on this symbolic gesture to show support for the families of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and to show that they will stand up until every American life is respected and every American is paid enough to support their families with dignity.
Workers in New Industries Join Movement to Lift Pay
Inspired by the bold, national actions of fast-food workers, other workers are joining together to boost pay in fast-growing service sector jobs. Workers from discount stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar and convenience stores like Speedway and BP walked off their jobs Thursday in two-dozen cities, forcing many stores to close.
“If you work eight hours a day, five days a week, and you come home and you are still worried about paying your bills and taking care of your family, something has to change” said Daryel Eatmonds, the BP worker who walked out of his overnight shift. “That’s why I joined the Fight For 15.”
In 19 cities, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles, non-union and union home care workers who provide in-home support and care for senior citizens and people with disabilities joined striking fast-food workers in front of McDonald’s restaurants. In many instances, clients protested alongside their home care providers in support of their fight for better pay.
“Just like fast food and convenience store workers, home care workers can’t wait for higher wages,” said Chicago home care worker Alantris Muhammad. “The gas and electric companies and won’t wait for payments, and neither can we. This movement continues to grow, with more working people adding their voices everyday – the time is now for $15 an hour.”
“I’m here because staying in my home and my community depends on home care workers,” explained Susan Aarup, a home care consumer. “If we don’t make home care jobs good jobs, there won’t be enough home care workers for all the people who need them now and in the future. My home care workers support my dignity and independence every day, and I support a $15 an hour wage for them – it’s a win-win.”
For the first time, workers at 10 of the nation’s busiest airports joined together with fast-food and home care workers in calling for $15 and union rights. Earlier this week, the workers sent a letter to the CEOs of America’s six largest airlines calling on them to partner with airports that are trying to raise wages. “As airport workers we have pledged to stand together with people who work in homecare and fast-food to fight for $15 an hour,” workers wrote.
In their first coordinated national action, workers from major airports in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis, Oakland, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, and Atlanta joined with the fast-food, dollar, convenience and home care workers Thursday, demanding $15 and union rights.
Rewiring How America Thinks About Wages
Thursday’s strikes come one week after Walmart workers led nationwide Black Friday strikes to protest the company’s illegal threats against workers calling for $15 an hour and full-time work. The growing Fight for $15 has been credited with elevating the debate around inequality in the U.S. Slate called the movement a“stunning success” and wrote that, “dedicated fast-food workers have managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages.”
What seemed like a far-fetched goal—$15 an hour—is now a reality in SeaTac and Seattle, where Bloomberg News said the city adopted “the rallying cry of fast-food workers” and where local low-wage airport workers played a leading role in winning the historic wage increase. In November, San Francisco became the third city in the U.S. to adopt a $15 minimum wage, and just this week, Chicago lawmakers voted to raise the Windy City’s minimum wage to $13. Since the first strike in 2012, more than 8 million low-wage workers across the country have gotten raises through local ballot measures, city and state legislation and contract negotiations.
“The fast-food giants have seemed clumsy, and wrong-footed by the surge of protest,” according to the New Yorker, responding to the workers by telling them toget a second job, sing away their stress and apply for public assistance. But fast-food workers have responded by turning up their movement. At their first nationwide convention in Chicago last summer, they vowed to do whatever it takes to win $15 and union rights, and in September, nearly 500 were arrested during strikes that hit 150 cities.
The Fight for $15 is drawing support from key political figures. President Obama praised the fast-food workers, saying in a Labor Day speech that they are, “organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.” And Hillary Clinton applauded them in a speech to leading Democrats, calling the fast-food workers’ fight for higher pay, “a movement that is not waiting for Washington with its gridlock and grandstanding.” The urgent need for solutions to America’s low-wage crisis is already emerging as a key issue in the run-up to the 2016 election. In The New York Times, David Leonhardt wrote, “[a]s the 2016 presidential campaign begins to stir, the central question will be how both parties respond to the great wage slowdown.”
Labor Board Determines McDonald’s is the Boss
Thursday’s strike follows a determination by National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel that, despite McDonald’s repeated claims, the company is a joint employer that exerts substantial power over its employees’ working conditions. For 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.”
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 percent of fast-food workers have had money stolen from their checks.
Growing Fast-Food Worker Movement Abroad
The strikes come weeks after visits by American fast-food workers to Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, The Philippines, Argentina and Brazil, where they met with local fast-food workers, labor leaders, and lawmakers to strengthen ties with fast-food workers and unions abroad.
During the tour, American McDonald’s workers rallied a crowd of 2,200 in Tokyo for higher wages, helped launch the national Philippine fast-food worker movement, addressed thousands of union workers in Denmark and the UK, protested low wages at the largest McDonald’s in France, and forged ties with local unions in Argentina. The tour spotlighted criticism of McDonald’s low-wage business model in some of its most critical growth markets, and inspired fast-food worker movements abroad.
As fast-food workers in the U.S. fight for a living wage and the right to a union, Denmark—where workers earn $20 or more per hour, strikes a devastating blow to McDonald’s argument against paying higher wages. The New York Times quotes the general manager of HMSHost, which runs fast-food operations at Copenhagen Airport, acknowledging that Denmark’s $20 minimum wage for fast-food workers makes it “more expensive to operate. But we can still make money out of it — and McDonald’s does, too. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be in Denmark.”
Follow the strikes online at StrikeFastFood.org and on Twitter at #StrikeFastFood.
Fast-food workers went on strike in the following cities:
Aberdeen, WA; Alameda, CA; Atlanta, GA; Auburn Hills, MI; Baton Rouge, LA; Bellevue, PA; Bellevue, WA;Bellefontaine, MO; Ben Salem, PA; Berkeley, CA; Birmingham, AL; Boston, MA; Brighton, NY; Brookfield, WI; Brown Deer, WI; Buffalo, NY; Burton, MI; Carmichael, CA; Castro Valley, CA; Centennial, CO; Chapel Hill, NC; Charleston, SC; Charlotte, NC; Chelsea, MA; Chicago, IL; Citrus Heights, CA; Claymont, DE; Dearborn Heights, MI; Decatur, GA; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Dixon, IL; Dublin, CA; Duquesne, PA; Durham, NC; Eastpointe, MI; El Cerrito, CA; Elk Grove, CA; Everett, MA; Fairfield, CA; Farmington Hills, MI; Farmville, NC; Ferguson, MO; Ferndale, MI; Fitchburg, WI; Flint, MI; Flint Township, MI; Florissant, MO; Folsom, CA; Forsyth, MO; Freeport, IL; Fremont, CA; Ft Lauderdale, FL; Germantown, WI; Glendale, WI; Grandview, MO; Greece, NY; Greendale, WI; Greenfield, WI; Greensboro, NC; Greenville, NC; Hamtramck, MI; Harper Woods, MI; Hartford, CT; Harvey, LA; Hayward, CA; Henderson, NV; Henrico, VA; Hercules, CA; High Point, NC; Highland Park, MI; Hillsborough, NC; Homestead, PA; Houston, TX; Independence, MO; Indianapolis, IN; Inglewood, CA; Irondequoit, NY; Jackson, MS; Jacksonville, AR; James Island, SC; Janesville, WI; Jennings, MO; Kansas City, KS; Kansas City, MO; Kirkwood, MO; Knoxville, TN; 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; Lynn, MA; Madison, WI; Maryland Heights, MO; Melvindale, MI; Memphis, TN; Menomonee Falls, WI; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; Minneapolis, MN; Montgomery, Ala.; Nashville, TN; New Castle, DE; New Orleans, LA; New York, NY; North Charleston, SC; North Highlands, CA; North Kansas City, MO; North Las Vegas, NV; North Little Rock, AR; Oak Park, MI; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; Opelika, AL; Orangevale, CA; Orlando, FL; Pasadena, CA; Pensacola, FL; Peoria, IL; Pewaukee, WI; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pine Bluff, AR; Pittsburgh, PA; Pleasant Hills, PA; Pleasanton, CA; Plymouth, NC; Pontiac, MI; Providence, RI; Raleigh, NC; Rancho Cordova, CA; Raytown, MO; Redford, MI; Redford Township, MI; Richmond, CA; Richmond, VA; River Rouge, MI; Rochester, NY; Rock Hill, MO; Rockford, IL; Roseville, CA; Ross Township, PA; Rothschild, WI; Sacramento, CA; Saint Rose, LA; San Diego, CA; San Leandro, CA; San Lorenzo, CA; San Pablo, CA; Sandy Spring, GA; Schofield, WI; Scottsdale, AZ; Slidell, LA; South Boston, VA; Southfield, MI; Southaven, MS; Spanish Lake, MO; Springfield, MO; St Louis, MO; St Paul, MN; St Petersburg, FL; Sterling, IL; Sun Prairie, WI; 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; West Sacramento, CA; Westview, PA; Wethersfield, CT; Wilkinsburg, PA; Williamston, NC; Wilmington, DE; Windsor Locks, CT.
Founded in November of 2012, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago is a union of fast food and retail workers. The workers’ Fight for 15 campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage, more work hours, and the right to form a union without retaliation. The Fight for 15 campaign is supported by an ever-expanding coalition 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; ONE Northside; 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.