CHICAGO – Fast food workers began strikes, protests and sit-ins in the streets here and in more than 150 other U.S. cities and towns this morning in their stepped-up drive for a $15 hourly wage.
More than 20 workers were arrested outside a McDonald’s in the Chatham section of this city where 450 demonstrated outside the 87th Street McDonald’s for several hours before marching out onto Wabash Ave. Once in the streets many linked arms and sat down to make their point about the necessity of a living wage.
Those arrested in a peaceful act of civil disobedience had sat in the intersection in front of the store, refusing to move when ordered to do so by police.
The normally busy McDonald’s, which handles a brisk rush-hour breakfast crowd, was almost devoid of customers from 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. The few who did come in voiced support for the strikers.
“I am glad they have had an impact on the business,” said Hammond Carter, a retiree who was having a cup of coffee. “You can’t live on what they pay,” he said, “especially if you got kids.”
A worker who remained on duty at one of the cash registers, with the store manager standing only a few feet behind her, smiled and gave thumbs up when asked about her reaction to the strikers and protesters outside.
The morning protest on Chicago’s South Side drew support not just from workers at other fast food stores and community organizations but also from McDonald’s workers in places as far away as Argentina and Brazil.
Francis Cabrera, who has worked for almost three years at a McDonald’s in Buenos Aires, said, “I’m here to support my brothers and sisters in the United States, and to say that if we can have a union in Argentina they should be able to have one here in the U.S. If you work for McDonald’s in my country you are also in the union and you get paid sick days, vacation, holidays, maternity and paternity leave and profit sharing. Why not the same for my brothers and sisters here?”
“Our battle is the same all around the world,” said Jadir Rafael, who was at the protest representing the Fast Food Workers Confederation of Brazil. “We support their struggle here because we all work for the same multinational corporation. We want U.S. workers to have the same union rights we have in Brazil,” he said. “Why can’t they have the same here in the U.S.?”
Fifty-three year old Douglas Hunter, a maintenance person at a Westside McDonald’s, knows from experience how tough it is to live on fast food wages. “We shouldn’t be scratching and scraping every day just to get by,” he said. Hunter, who has worked at the company for six years, earns $9.25. “How can I pay $750 rent and raise my 16 year-old daughter on that?” he asked. “After bills I have $25 left for the two of us to live on for a whole week and this is back-to-school time.”
Hunter described how McDonalds has been able to take advantage of his skills. (See video below.) “When the fryer broke they called to get an estimate on what it would cost to fix this motor. They told them the motor would cost $750 and the labor would cost $2,600.” But they used Hunter and a coworker to fix it in one day, paying them $9.25 an hour for eight hours each. So instead of paying $2,600 for labor McDonald’s paid $148, he said. “Wouldn’t it be fair for them to pay us a decent wage?”
Like Hunter, many of those who were at the demonstration were much older than the youth who are traditionally thought of as the typical fast food workers.
“I had to raise my kids on $8 an hour,” said Cecelia Carella, 47, as she rolled up her left sleeve to show an arm covered with burns and scars she said she got from working with the fryers. “Only recently,” she said, “when all the protests started, they raised us up to $9.25.”
Roberta Wood and Teresa Albano contributed to this story.
Photo: PW/Roberta Wood