Restaurant workers' wage protests spread to Chicago

Dec. 13, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

After hundreds of New York City quick-service workers walked out of their jobs two weeks ago in protest of low wages, a large crowd is expected to do the same today in Chicago.

Leaders from community, labor and faith groups will join the restaurant and retail workers' campaign at a rally at Chicago's Cityfront Plaza. Today's event was organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.

Specifically, the protesters in both cities are calling for higher wages and the right to form a union without interference. According to a press release, today's speakers will address the low wages at many quick-service corporations that "force thousands of workers below the poverty line." This, according to organizers, weakens Chicago's economy.

Following the rally, protestors will march along the city's Magnificent Mile before delivering a letter to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association demanding a response to the campaign by Dec. 22.

Last month, low-wage food and retail workers in Chicago took their campaign public and held a founding convention for their new Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). On Black Friday, food and retail workers were joined by striking Walmart workers for protests along the Magnificent Mile and in The Loop.

Meanwhile, back in New York City, a press conference will be held at noon Friday with elected officials and quick-service workers who rely on public assistance.

On the heels of the strike last month, the group is going to ask for restaurant industry support to raise wages to $15 an hour, as well as the right to form a union. The effort has engaged workers from McDonald's, Wendy's, Domino's Taco Bell and other chains across the city.

According to event organizers, "workers say poverty pay from profitable corporations is wrong, and taxpayers say they don't want to shoulder the burden for the fast food industry's low wages." The workers' campaign is called "Fast Food Forward."

Almost 27 percent of QSR workers receive food stamps, according to a report in Bloomberg, based on analysis of census data compiled by the University of Minnesota Population Center. According to the Economic Policy Institute, foodservice and preparation had a higher percentage or workers earning a wage at or below the poverty level than any other profession.

Bloomberg's story also highlights the growing disparity between executive pay and hourly employee pay at QSRs. For example, McDonald's highest paid executive last year (then-CEO Jim Skinner) made $8.8 million. Yet, the average McDonald's employee earned $18,564 annually, or about $8.25 an hour.

Fast Food Forward's Facebook page has tripled its fan base — from 1,200 to 3,100 — since Nov. 29.

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Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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