Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Hundreds of Chicago fast food and retail workers stage one-day strike, shutting some stores

April 26th, 2013 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonHundreds of Chicago fast food and retail workers walked out for a one-day strike Wednesday, following similar one-day strikes among New York City fast food workers earlier in April and inNovember. As in New York, the Chicago workers are calling for a wage of $15 an hour rather than the near-minimum wages most of them make, and the right to join together in unions. The Illinois minimum wage is $8.25, a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage that applies in New York, but the stories the workers tell are similar. At an organizing meeting, Micah Uetricht reports:

An African-American man approaching what’s typically thought of as retirement age told of decades working in fast food and hovering near minimum wage, while a young Urban Outfitters worker said a raise would “make the difference between living and surviving.”When explaining what a raise to $15 per hour would mean to her, Trish Kahle, a Whole Foods worker, stated simply, “I could have heat all winter.”

Dunkin Donuts worker Esly Hernandez, who is paid $8.25 an hour, told Ned Resnikoff that he’s striking for his four-year-old son, both to set an example for him and to be able to afford medically recommended nutrition for the anemic child.

Wednesday’s action in Chicago should be viewed not just in the context of the New York City fast food strikes, but of the wave of low-wage worker organizing over the past year more generally, as Josh Eidelson explains:

The strike wave’s spread to Chicago offers a hopeful sign for the New York City fast food campaign. While individual fast food stores are managed by franchisees, national CEOs are the real decision-makers in both fast food and retail. Given the financial cost and, more important, the risk of setting a precedent and emboldening a wider workforce, it’s hard to imagine executives for McDonald’s or Macy’s making any significant concessions to workers in any city unless faced with a bona fide national uprising. For that to happen, the strikes would have to go viral, big-time.The strikes aren’t spreading by accident. November New York fast food strikers told Salon that they drew inspiration from workers who walked out of Wal-Mart stores, who in turn cited the example of their Wal-Mart warehouse counterparts. Interviewed while on strike April 4, New York fast food workers said that November’s smaller walkout had made that day’s work stoppage possible. “I was waiting” during the first strike, said Brooklyn Burger King worker Christelle Lumen. “I wanted to know, would they be OK with it? Would they fire the people that went on strike?”

According to the Fight for 15 campaign, a Subway, a Sally’s Beauty Supply, and a Land’s End were shut down by the strike and a march of and in support of the strikers stretched for two city blocks.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 24, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

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