Fast Food Workers Strike In Second Major City

Chicago fast-food and retail workers walk out in strike. Ever since she began working as a cashier for the Protein Bar restaurant chain in downtown Chicago a year and a half ago, says Amie Crawford, she's felt mistreated. The 56-year-old has yet to be made a full-time staffer, as she was told she would be. And despite 30 years of employment history, including working as an interior designer in North Carolina's Outer Banks, she must ask permission to use the bathroom. She makes $8.75 an hour and has no benefits.

Crawford joined several hundred other fast-food and other low-wage workers Wednesday in a one-day walkout from their jobs. The workers, who are calling for a $15 minimum wage in their Fight for $15 campaign, are being organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a non-union community organization. Crawford, who is single and is a leader of organization, credits recent activism among fast-food workers in New York as the inspiration for the day of action.

And in speaking about the New York protest from earlier this month, which turned out to be the largest strike ever of fast food workers, Crawford says the the protest in Gotham provided a shot in the arm for the Chicago workers. "If they can do it, why can't we do it. We felt empowered by that," she said.

The day of action is slated to go into the night, so there's no final count yet of the participating workers. The workers have come from such national fast-food companies as McDonald's, Subway and Dunkin' Donuts in addition to Protein Bar, which also has restaurants in Washington D.C.

In an interview with AOL Jobs, Protein Bar founder Matt Matros defended the salaries at his start-up operation. "It's the industry standard," he said. "This is what we have to offer to sell burritos for $6.50." He himself makes "well under $100,000," he said. His eight restaurants give workers performance tests to increase their salary until they rise to become general managers.

But the workers also came from retailers including Macy's, Victoria's Secret and Sears. (Organizers were originally hoping for a turnout of around 500 workers. Early reports suggested that workers from other companies were joining in the action. By early evening, workers from Whole Foods had already joined the event, without prior warning.) In addition to the demand for a $15 minimum wage, the workers are clamoring for many of the similar goals that were raised in New York -- full-time hours and benefits.

The workers are focusing their attention on the downtown area Chicago known as "The Loop," which according to The Nation, sees about $4 billion in retail and fast food revenue each year.

More: NYC Fast-Food Workers Strike: 'Supersize Our Wages,' They Demand

Organizers were hailing the Chicago rally as part of a nationwide invigoration of labor activism. "Bravo Chicago. This is just the beginning," Jonathan Westin, campaign director for Fast Food Forward in New York, said in a news release. In speaking to AOL Jobs early this month, Westin presented the $15 minimum wage as anything but a fantasy. "It's not reasonable for multibillion corporations who are making record profits to pay this little," he said.

One marked difference from the April 4 strike in New York is that the fast-food workers are being joined by the retail-store workers. The emergence of both fast food and retail workers as the focus of union activism represents a shift for American labor. As AOL Jobs reported in December, the face of American labor is moving away from auto, manufacturing and steel workers and toward workers from service sectors.

The shift is in keeping with changes in the American economy. Back in 1950, the services sector represented comprised 60 percent of the economy. Now, the figure is closer to 80 percent.

"For so long, labor avoided low-wage service jobs," Lowell Turner, professor of international and comparative labor at the Industrial Labor Relations School at Cornell, said last year. "But now this is the majority of jobs. If [unions are] not elevating these jobs, we'll have a whole class of workers living in poverty."

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Pay them fair living wages, these companies have been ripping off the worker for years...if the min wage was adjusted with inflationary like it should be, it would be around 18.50 per only due to crony capitalism that it has been held down

February 10 2014 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Um these comments must be made by some people living in a bubble. You have to work while getting an education!

May 29 2013 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Its seriously slave wages right now. You make enough to go back to work again and sometimes not. Might as well put up cots in the back and call us Toby!

May 29 2013 at 9:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If a person is paid less than they are "worth", the only one to blame is that person. Supply/demand determines wages, just like it determines prices – which two terms are converse equivalents. If a gallon of milk is worth between 2.50 and 2.75, no retailer is going to sell it for 10.00. He might try, but he will quickly realize that he can't fight the invisible hand. Similarly, an employer may WANT to pay his employees less than they are worth, but he will soon realize that doing so is not possible, or at least not profitable. To all of you who are ready to argue that "people are desperate", let me point out that desperation is a factor in the supply/demand curve in the same way that overstocked items in a store decrease their value. In some cases (very rarely in the US), a firm or individual takes unethical steps to decrease the value of his employees by manipulating their circumstances, but the distinction should be made that there is a difference between paying someone less than they are worth and devaluing their worth, even if the end is the same. Both would be inhumane, but only one is possible without the consent of the employee. That's neither here nor there, since Chicago fast-food chain owners aren't even in a position to do either (at least not within the law). Everything I've said so far is factual. You can argue with it, but you will be wrong. 2 plus 3 will ALLWAYS equal 5, no matter how sure you are that it equals 7. That being said, the argument could be made that sometimes the needs of humanity are greater than the needs of the economy as a whole. This is why we often donate to charity and why nearly everybody on both sides of the political isle support some level of government welfare. Not because the recipients have earned our contributions, but because we feel it is the decent thing to do. This is the principle behind minimum wage, whether you agree or not. Minimum wage makes the world more humane, but by the strict definition of the word, it makes things less "fair" since it forces employers to pay more than the market (fair) value for their labor. Maybe that's OK, but let's at least understand what we're talking about.

April 26 2013 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What do these people think they are going to accomplish when there are thousands of unemployed who would be happy to replace them? Maybe the level of intelligence that makes them think that a burger joint can't run without them, is why they are only worth minimum wage. Want a living wage, get a living education.

April 26 2013 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Fire them all. What a bunch of whining little turds. You are fast food workers you are not chefs. Hell you probably arent even educated. If you dont like the pay quit and start your own business see how that works out for you. You bunch of whiny losers.

April 26 2013 at 7:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

fifteen dollars. if they have to pay that wage. those people will be out of a job. people will only pay a reasonable amount of money for a product.. the would have to double there prices

April 25 2013 at 7:37 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

$15 min to work in a store? seriously? My mom was a home health aide for over 10 years and had to pay for a license at $40 a year just so she could work and spent a lot of money on the schooling as well and only gets paid $10.50 hr or $11 if she's really lucky. Some places only pay $9 for her service even though she was educated and everything. She gets hit by the old people if they can't control their arms and have to clean up their diapers and give them bathes and so on. All the people in this march would be trying to sue the old lady that hit them in the face even if they knew she can't control it.

April 25 2013 at 6:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Permission to use the bathroom???? What is this, China?

April 25 2013 at 5:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Dr. David Secord

I really like the sign in front, which states "We Are Worth More". This is clearly not the case, as you would be earning more if you were worth it. More likely, you are massively overstating your worth and are delusional. These are 'entry-level' positions and pay what they pay. If you don't think you earn enough, quit and work somewhere else. If that 'somewhere else' doesn't exist, it either means you don't possess the skill-set and/or education to command a larger wage or the economy is so crappy that well-educated and skilled individuals are willing to take the low pay just to have some manner of occupation. I believe we are in the 2nd position (crappy economy). I assume that none of the individuals marching have ever taken an economics course and thought through what price would have to attach to a Big Mac in order to pay everyone twice what they are currently making? Who do you imagine is going to pay $10.00 for that Big Mac (sans fries and drink)? The place will simply go out of business, dummy. Then, you'll be making $0.00/hr. Are these people REALLY this stupid?

April 25 2013 at 4:12 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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