DOWNTOWN — Fast food and retail workers are staging protests around Chicago Wednesday to demand what they say is a livable wage — $15 per hour.
Protesters marched throughout The Loop Wednesday morning, pausing at businesses like Macy's, Victoria's Secret and McDonald's to hold rallies calling for an official union for downtown retail and fast food employees as well as more money.
Joined by members of other unions like the Service Employees International Union, the crowd of protesters grew to more than 200 as it marched from Union Station through The Loop and down the Magnificent Mile.
The protests were held by the campaign "Fight for 15," which is spearheaded by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.
Christina Rivero, a member of the committee, said the all-day protests were meant to put the issue in a new light.
Rivero said the campaign seeks to change "the national narrative to a worker's story, bringing light to an ignored story." Rivero said workers are seeking reasonable wages and respect on the job.
"Nobody's asking to be rich," Rivero said. "They're just asking for a living wage."
Robert Wilson, 25, said he has worked at McDonald's for seven years. He said he made $8.35 an hour for years. He recently got promoted, which came with a 25-cent pay bump and more job security, but he said that's not enough.
Wilson said workers are demanding $15 an hour because they deserve it and said he believes major fast food companies can afford the pay bump. Illinois' minimum wage is currently $8.25.
"They have been booming since the recession, these companies," Wilson said. "They've been making more profits, but we've still been at the same pay, going through the same struggles."
More than 50 fast food workers and organizers donning red rain ponchos were gathered just outside Union Station, 22 South Riverside Plaza, about 7 a.m. Wednesday. Earlier, some had gathered outside of the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's with signs.
After rallying outside Union Station, protesters moved to a Subway restaurant in The Loop where the crowd swelled to more than 100 people. The crowd then split into two groups, with some heading to a McDonald's at Clark and Lake streets, while others headed to Macy's on State Street.
Outside the McDonald's, Ines Villalobos said she has worked at the Rock N' Roll McDonald's, 600 North Clark St., for 11 years and has not made more than $8.25 an hour.
Speaking in Spanish, Villalobos said she wanted to see things change.
"We are fighting for $15 for our families and the other workers, my coworkers, who didn't want to come out today because they're still scared," Villalobos said through a translator.
Villalobos said she is no longer scared to speak out about her low wages. She shrugged when asked if she believed she would be fired for taking part in the protests.
"If they're going to fire me, they're going to fire me," she said. "There's nothing I can do."
Villalobos said she believed $15 an hour would allow her to provide for her three children. She said $8.25 is just not enough to buy her children the basics, like food and clothes.
Speaking through a bullhorn to the crowd of protesters outside Macy's at State and Randolph streets, Bianca Buice, 22, said the current minimum wage was not enough.
"$8.25, I'm not surviving," said Buice, who works in Macy's shoe department. "I can barely buy a 7-day [CTA pass] every week."
Buice said she makes about $100 per week and said it leaves her constantly "struggling."
"It's time for a change y'all," she said as her eyes teared up and voice cracked. "I'm tired of struggling."
Like Buice and most workers who shared their story, Robert Wilson said the bottom line is he is tired of working a job where he cannot make ends meet. Wilson said the minimum wage has not kept up with even a modest standard of living.
"At the end of the day, I'm a full-time worker, but my job don't provide for my basic needs," he said. "I still need government assistance even though I'm working full time. Where's the logic in that, especially when we're talking about a billion-dollar industry?"
Organizers are also holding a 3:30 p.m. rally at St. James Cathedral at 65 E. Huron St. and broadcasting a livestream on the campaign's website.
Earlier this month, fast food workers staged a similar walkout in New York to protest for better pay. Reuters reported that as many as 400 protesters turned out for the event.
Emily Morris contributed.