More than 20 McDonald’s workers and members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago demonstrated Friday outside the Union League Club of Chicago, where McDonald’s USA president Jeff Stratton spoke.
Protesters brandishing megaphones and signs called for a $15-per-hour minimum wage and the right to unionize without retaliation as part of the Fight for 15 campaign, which calls for an improved standard of living for Chicago workers. The protesters chanted slogans like “We can’t survive on 8.25”and “Hold your burgers, hold your fries, make our wages supersize.” Drivers honked their approval, and bus riders cheered the picket line and raised their fists in solidarity.
Later, inside the Union League Club, several protesters interrupted Stratton’s speech and were escorted out by police, according to the Chicago Tribune.
“I’m tired of struggling every day,” said Nancy Salgado, a 26-year-old mother of two who has worked at McDonald’s for 10 years.
Salgado, who lives in Logan Square, questioned the disparity between the $5.5 billion in profits McDonald’s saw in 2012 and the minimum wage the corporation pays its workers.
“We are the ones who make the money,” Salgado said. “We are the ones feeding the customers.”
In addition to pushing for higher wages, protesters aimed to dispel the “myth of mobility” McDonald’s perpetuates by claiming that it provides career advancement opportunities, said Deivid Rojas, communications director for the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.
Stratton started working at McDonald’s as a teenager and rose through the ranks, but that has not been the experience of workers like Tyree Johnson, 45, who said he has worked for McDonald’s for 21 years without a promotion. He lives in a cheap hotel because he cannot afford an apartment.
Managerial positions account for only 2.2 percent of jobs in the fast-food industry, according to a July report from the National Employment Law Project cited by the workers. In the Chicago area, 275,000 people are employed as low-wage fast-food and retail workers.
Samuel Badie, a Panera Bread employee from Burnside, had just left work when he saw the protest and picked up a flier. He said he was considering getting involved with the organizing committee.
“We’re at a time when people have to work 80-hour weeks to put food on the table,” Badie, 20, said.
Aarin Foster, a member of the organizing committee, said that the protest was successful in raising awareness of McDonald’s working conditions.
“Anytime there is a dialogue about something there never was a dialogue about, that’s half the battle,” said Foster, 28, who works for the Subway fast-food sandwich chain.
Foster said that the campaign is already having an effect on public opinion.
“At first people were indifferent about it, but now that it’s out there, we’re forcing you to pick a side,” he said.
–Photos by Sophia Nahli Allison