From McDonalds to Macy's, Workers in Chicago Strike for Living Wages

A Subway employee (in blue) walks out and joins a crowd protesting low wages in fast food restaurants (Photo via @micahuetricht).Hundreds of fast-food workers in Chicago walked off their jobs Wednesday morning, calling for true living wages and the right to unionize without interference from management.

By the end of the day, more than 500 works from national brands like McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Macy’s, Sears, and Victoria’s Secret are expected to participate, in an attempt to bring attention to plight of workers at the city's fast food and retail outlets who work hard, but don't earn enough to support themselves.

According to the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, there are over 275,000 men and women who work hard in the city’s fast food and retail outlets, but still can’t afford basic necessities like food, clothing, and rent. A single adult Chicagoan with a child actually needs to make nearly $21 an hour to get by, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  They content if workers were paid more, they’d spend more, helping to get Chicago’s economy moving again

Think Progress makes the case how workers would benefit by being allowed to unionize:

The ability to organize would, as Salon’s Josh Eidelson explained, give the workers leverage to bargain for better wages and benefits without fear of retaliation from their employers. Fast food and retail workers aren’t all teenagers — the median age of a low-wage worker is 28, and many of them are trying to earn a living and support a family. But with so few protections, workers have almost no ability to demand better wages, benefits, and working conditions without the fear of retaliation, including fewer hours or outright job loss. A union, however, would give workers the ability to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers across industries make an average of $200 per week more than their non-union counterparts.

Wednesday’s action follows a nationwide Black Friday strike by Walmart workers and comes just weeks after 400 fast-food workers walked off their jobs in New York City—the biggest-ever strike to hit the industry. Low-wage jobs have accounted for the bulk of new jobs added in the recovery, and retail and fast food are among the fastest-growing sectors. Chicago workers, like those around the country, are increasingly joining together to fight for higher wages that will lift the economy.

Fast food and retail workers bring more than $4 billion a year into the cash registers of the Magnificent Mile and the Loop, yet most of these workers earn Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25, or just above it, and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children. They’re coming together to fight for $15 per hour and the right to form a union so they can support their families, and put money back into the economy. 

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