My son lives in Chicago and we were talking about this yesterday. He was really interested in the approach they’re using:
A nationwide wave of one- and two-day walkouts that began this week in New York City will spread to Chicago on Wednesday and Thursday, when hundreds of area workers at roughly 60 fast-food and retail locations plan to walk out on the job in protest of working conditions and low wages.
Demands range from a living wage, which they peg at $15 an hour, to the ability to unionize without retaliation, says Lorraine Chavez, outreach coordinator for Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, the group that organized the strikes. Local companies McDonald’s, Potbelly, Sears and Walgreens are included in the list of 26 national fast-food and retail chains where workers will strike.
“Workers are just so excited and enthused about drawing a line in the sand and saying we’re not going to take these conditions anymore,” Chavez said, adding that unlike April’s walkout, this week’s will expand beyond downtown. Employees are planning to strike at the Whole Foods on Halsted in Lakeview and at McDonald’s restaurants in Albany Park and McKinley Park.
Among those striking Thursday will be Andrew Little, 26, who works at the Victoria’s Secret on Michigan and Superior. Little credits his participation in the April strikes with landing him a $2.26 raise when he returned to work, bringing his total hourly wage to $11.26. “When they told me I was getting a raise, I thought it would be 5 cents or 10 cents,” Little said. “[The larger raise] happened because of the strike, because of what happened on April 24.”
Now, Little wants Victoria’s Secret to revise its on-call policy, which he says forces him to clear his schedule for work without guaranteeing him hours. “I want a steadier schedule, whether it’s four hours or eight hours,” he said.
Based on what low wage workers tell me, the scheduling issue is huge. It really isn’t right to ask people to structure their whole lives around a constantly shifting schedule at jobs that pay so little. Add children (and dealing with child care) and it’s just a recipe for stress and unhappiness because the whole family stays in a constant state of chaos. It ripples, too, because people providing childcare are also at the mercy of the constantly shifting schedule, and they are also low-wage (or no-wage) workers.
We heard a couple of weeks ago about how workers need help budgeting their money, so a credit card company was generously helping them with that. It would be a hell of a lot easier to budget their money if they knew how many hours they were getting and when they might be working, don’t you think?
From New York to several Midwestern cities, thousands of fast-food workers have been holding one-day strikes during peak mealtimes, quickly drawing national attention to their demands for much higher wages.
These strikes, which are planned for Milwaukee on Thursday, carry the flavor of Occupy Wall Street protests and are far different from traditional unionization efforts that generally focus on a single workplace. The national campaign, underwritten with millions of dollars from the Service Employees International Union, aims to mobilize workers — all at once — in numerous cities at hundreds of restaurants from two dozen chains.
The strategists know they want to achieve a $15 wage, but they seem to be ad-libbing on ways to get there. Perhaps they will seek to unionize workers at dozens of restaurants, although some labor leaders scoff at that idea because the turnover rate among fast-food employees is about 75 percent a year. Or the strategists and strikers might press city councils to enact a special “living wage” for fast-food restaurants. Or perhaps by continually disrupting the fast-food marketplace from counter to counter across the country, they can get McDonald’s, KFC and others to raise wages to end the ruckus. The protests’ organizers acknowledge that yet another goal is to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and pressure state legislatures to raise the state minimums.
In explaining why her union is pouring dozens of organizers and significant sums into the effort, Mary Kay Henry, the S.E.I.U. president, said, “Our union’s members think that economic inequality is the No. 1 problem our nation needs to solve. We think it’s important to back low-wage workers who are willing to stand up and have the courage to strike to make the case that the economy is creating jobs that people can’t support their families on.”
I’m thrilled they’re getting so much media attention.