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Fast-Food Workers Walk Off Jobs in Protest of Wages, 19 Arrested

By Wendell Hutson | September 4, 2014 7:21pm
 Protesting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, fast-food workers were arrested after demonstrating in front of area McDonald's restaurants on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.
Fast-Food Workers Walk Off Jobs in Protest of Low Wages, 19 Arrested
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CHATHAM — Some fast-food workers in Chicago walked off the job Thursday, protesting for a higher minimum wage as part of a series of nationwide protests. In Chicago, at least 19 protesters were arrested.

Two single parents, who work at a West Side McDonald's restaurant, were among the protesters and said the only reason why they are receiving government assistance is due to low wages.

Jessica Davis, a 26-year-old student studying sociology at Northeastern Illinois University, has worked at McDonald's at 2005 W. Chicago Ave. for nearly five years and earns $9.13 per hour for a 20-hour work week.

"When it's a good week I work 25 hours, but it would be great if I worked 40 hours a week," said Davis, a single mother with a 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughter. "I work for a multi-billion dollar corporation and should be paid at least $15 per hour."

According to Davis, the Chicago Housing Authority subsidizes her rent at a West Loop apartment building.

"I also receive a medical card and a LINK card for my kids. But If I was paid a fair wage I would not need any government assistance," added Davis.

McDonald's, in a statement, said "we respect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest."

"The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s -- it affects our country’s entire workforce. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses – like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants – is manageable.

"Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of “full time” employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.

"It’s important to know approximately 90 percent of our U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws. McDonald’s does not determine wages set by our more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees."

The Chicago protesters walked off their jobs for a second time in less than a year and marched outside a South Side McDonald's, 29 E. 87th St., demanding a $15 minimum hourly wage.

According to Chicago police, 19 protesters were arrested after blocking traffic by sitting in the street. The 10 women and nine men were taken to the Gresham Police District, issued citations for civil disobedience, a misdemeanor, and then released.

Brittney Berry, a fast-food employee and single mother of a 2-year-old daughter, was among those arrested.

"We are doing whatever it takes because we can’t wait any longer. My family can’t wait any longer," Berry said. "I know we are so close to winning and that’s why I’m going to continue fighting until the end."

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), whose ward includes Chatham, also attended the protest. For months, the South Side alderman has advocated for a minimum wage increase of $15 per hour from its current $8.25 per hour in Illinois.

"These are not high school jobs anymore. People are raising families with these [fast-food] jobs," Sawyer said. "The minimum wage should be tied to inflation because it is costly to live in Chicago."

He added that if the minimum wage is increased it would ultimately benefit the economy.

"This money would be spent buying food and other products, which means more revenue for the city in the form of taxes," said Sawyer. "I support the workers 100 percent."

Douglas Hunter, 53, has worked at a McDonald's at 5153 W. Chicago Ave. for four-and-a-half years and said he currently earns $9.25 per hour.

"I make $800 a month and my rent is $775 a month, so you do the math. I am also a single parent and have a 16-year-old daughter to support," said Hunter, who lives in west suburban Broadview. "I work no more than 25 hours a week and that's done on purpose to keep me from qualifying for health insurance."

Derrick Taylor, president of the Black McDonald's Operators Association and a McDonald's franchise owner, who owns two Chatham restaurants, was unavailable for comment.

The "Fight for $15" campaign was a national push by fast-food workers and the Service Employees International Union to bump up hourly wages and to allow fast-food workers to form a union, something Sawyer also supports.

"Being in a union does have benefits and I see no reason why they [fast-food workers] should not be allowed be a part of a union," added Sawyer.

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