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Employees at Chatham McDonald's Strike, Demanding Higher Wages

By Wendell Hutson | December 5, 2013 7:51pm
 Employees at a South Side McDonald's restaurant participated national a one-day strike by fast-food workers, who are urging employers to pay them a minimum of $15 per hour.
Employee Strike
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CHATHAM — Andrea Christian said she struggles to support her four children working part time at McDonald's and wants her hourly wage increased from $8.25 to $15.

About 15 McDonald's employees and supporters joined Christian Thursday for a one-day strike. The group braved the cold weather and protested outside, holding up strike signs and urging drivers to honk their horns to show support.

One of those drivers was Marlon Phillips.

"I blew my horn because I support what they are trying to accomplish. Everyone deserves to be paid a fair wage," Phillips said. "These big corporations always want to open up in the black community but do not want to pay employees a fair salary."

Chicago was one of 100 cities targeted by the advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center for Thursday's protest demanding higher wages. The center wants the federal minimum wage increased from $7.25 per hour to $15.

President Barack Obama said he supports increasing the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour, which totals $18,000 a year for an employee working 40 hours per week. At the current federal minimum wage a full-time employee would earn $15,000 annually.

Gov. Pat Quinn also supports a bump in pay for workers.

“No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. Increasing the minimum wage will ensure that workers get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, while fighting poverty and bolstering our economy," Quinn said in a news release. “Earlier this year, I called for increasing the minimum wage in Illinois to at least $10 an hour, and I will continue to work with members of the General Assembly to make it happen.”

But for Christian, who said she was unemployed before McDonald's hired her, making ends meet has become a real challenge.

"On average I work 20 hours a week, and if you multiply that times two you can see I am living below poverty," said the 36-year-old Grand Crossing resident. "The only thing that's saving me is my mom who owns the apartment building I live at."

Christian has been employed at McDonald's, 29 E. State St., since May and said she does the work of two and three people but is only paid one small wage.

"If I am going to work two different jobs then I want a raise. I mean, come on, who can live off minimum wage in Chicago? Rent for a one-bedroom in a 'nice' area costs about $600, and I barely make $600 a month unless I am lucky and pick up extra hours."

However, officials with the Illinois Restaurant Association, said higher wages would lead to layoffs and higher prices.

Franchise owner Derrick Taylor owns the McDonald's restaurant where Christian works.

"Mr. Taylor has met with us [employees] at length to hear our concerns about low wages, but nothing came out of it," Christian said. "And most of the part-time employees are intentionally not given 30 hours a week because management does not want us to qualify for health insurance."

Taylor declined to comment.

The movement demanding higher wages — Fight for 15 — has targeted not only fast-food restaurants, but other food-industry businesses, such as Whole Foods.

In September, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) criticized McDonald's CEO Donald Thompson for making more than $6,000 an hour.