CHICAGO - Hundreds of this city's retail and fast food workers rallied at St. James Cathedral last night after having walked off their jobs early in the day. After their walkouts and before they got to the evening rally they marched and protested all over the Loop and the Magnificent Mile.
The first walkout was at 5:30 at McDonald's in Union Station. The walkouts continued all day, ultimately affecting more than 100 locations including Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Burger King, Macy's, Victoria's Secret and many other companies - 30 all told.
"I've been working here two years and have a 46 cent raise," said Andrew Little as he picketed in front of Victoria's Secret. "That isn't right. Nine dollars is not enough. It takes me at least two four-hour shifts to pay for two weeks worth of bus passes. The rest of my expenses I pay with the other three days. It's not a want. It's a need. We need 15 dollars an hour."
Little is typical of the countless workers who are kept on part time schedules so their employers won't have to pay for health insurance or other benefits.
In the days leading up to the Chicago walkouts the Fight for $15 Campaign helped build support by getting out "rent affordability charts" all over the Internet, showing how many hours a minimum wage worker has to work in order to afford a two bedroom apartment in all 50 states.
There is not a single state in the entire country where a minimum wage earner can cover fair market rent by working a standard 40-hour week. The calculation does not include the additional necessities of food, clothing, transportation, utility bills and medical care.
"Workers across the country are tired," said Krystal Collins, a Macy's employee. "We're tired of working hard, but not earning enough to support our families. After seeing the workers in New York City saying they weren't going to take it anymore, we were inspired to go on strike right here in Chicago."
Briel Daniels, another worker at Victoria's Secret, said $8.75 an hour was especially unacceptable "because I might bring in a thousand dollars of sales in an hour yet I can't make $1,000 in a month."
Tanesha Manuel, a worker at Nike, was thinking along the same lines. "People say the wage you are receiving is because you are a low skilled worker. But if I can generate big profits for the Nike store, along with my co-workers, I believe that means I am a skilled worker."
The determination of the companies to use people part time so they can avoid paying for benefits causes all kinds of other problems for workers.
"I'm working 20 to 22 hours a week," said Manuel. "But the discouraging thing is that it is spread over five days instead of three seven hour shifts so I'm forced to spend more on transportation. I love my job but the unfairness of that is a lot to deal with. We want to bring awareness of this to the public."
Many people passing protesters yesterday were supportive, saying they could understand the workers' demands. "What they are asking for is completely reasonable," said one woman in front of a Magnificent Mile McDonald's. "I just don't know how they could possibly make ends meet on the salaries they get now."
The blindsided McDonald's manager, Cynthia Delacruz, was scrambling as she tried to cover her shift. "I did not expect this, I was not forewarned about this, I had no idea that any of this was going on," she said.
"They just think their 'teams' should keep on working for miserable wages forever," said a spokesperson for The Fight for $15. "Then again, management probably no longer attracts the brightest bulbs in the chandelier these days. Being a manager is no longer about handling logistics, building an efficient and productive team, and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and professionalism (if it ever was).
"It's about enforcing your company's immoral, inhumane and miserly policies at all costs, so you can squeeze your underlings dry."
In their usual attempt to maintain what they call "objectivity," the major media searched for people who opposed the striking workers and interviewed John Brady, who WGN described as an "office worker" who was against the demonstrations.
"I think its rather bold for them to complain, when so many other people out there would just love to have their jobs," he told WGN.
Commenting on the interview, the Fight for $15 spokesperson said, "It seems every time workers ask to be treated fairly someone comes out and says they're supposedly lucky to even have a job. Nobody who works or wants to work should be subsisting on scraps. If you're working full time (either at a single job or multiple jobs) and still can't afford life's basic necessities, then your company is stealing your labor, and you're basically a slave. Since we abolished slavery in the U.S. in 1865 with the 13th Amendment, I'd say these folks have every right to complain."
Photo: Fight for 15 Facebook page