Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=231020
Story Retrieval Date: 4/17/2015 11:14:04 AM CST

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Carolyn Freundlich/Medill Reports

People responsible for making your big macs and whoppers, fast food workers took to the street in what was the largest strike against the industry.


Fast-food workers look to Seattle as wage fight continues in Chicago

by Carolyn Freundlich
Jun 5, 2014


The Seattle City Council voted unanimously on Monday to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 over the next several years. And Chicago business owners, politicians and activists will be looking northwest to see its effects.

 Last month, rallies and strikes were staged in 33 countries, six continents and 150 cities across the U.S., as thousands of fast-food workers walked off their jobs for a full day. In Chicago dozens of workers joined the rally calling for higher wages and the right of union representation without fear of retaliation.

"We deserve to get paid a living wage so we can raise money for our families," said Delores Leonard, a McDonald’s employee and mother of two. 

Leonard participated in the strike, which was the fifth time fast food workers rallied in the city to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to $15. It was also the first time workers in Chicago participated along with a global community in demanding a higher minimum wage.

"15 dollars an hour?" Leonard said. "I wouldn’t have to wonder how we are going to wash our clothes, where the tissue is going to come from after we use the bathroom, how we are going to maintain just a regular life."

McDonald’s said minimum wage is a discussion that goes far beyond its brand. In a publicly released statement the company said, "It’s an important topic that should take into account the perspectives of companies, independent business owners and employees.” The company stressed that 90% of its restaurants are owned by franchisees, small business owners who would feel the impact of a compulsory wage hike.

Ted Dabrowski, Vice President of Policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, said if the minimum wage is raised from $8.25 to $15 an hour it will "raise the cost of those companies and that of course would force companies to cut workers hours, fire some workers, increase their prices and in the end it’s a disruptive to the economy."

According to a study done by the Congressional Budget Office, if the federal minimum wage was raised from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, half a million people would lose their jobs.

"$15 an hour could put so many people out of work," Dabrowski said. "If you want to see inequality increase just raise the minimum wage to $15."

Roughly 1.1 million people in Illinois make minimum wage or lower, according to the Associated Press, and a quarter of them are parents supporting at least one child. Parents like Leonard, working 40 hours a week and still living in below the poverty line. 

"Me and my two little girls were sharing a one bedroom apartment and one queen size bed for almost a year and a half," Leonard said. "Until I hurt myself at work and couldn’t make my rent and ended up getting evicted."

Leonard has since moved in with her mom, yet still worries about paying for necessities.

"I often have to reach out to my mom or coworkers for help and it’s unfortunate because we are all in the same boat, we are all struggling," she said. "It’s embarrassing, they know I work all the time and still I’m asking for a waiver or for help."