A hand-lettered placard, reading “McDonald’s: Stop Fooling Around, $15 and a union,” caught the spirit of the crowd of at least 3,000 protestors in Chicago for a march to a McDonald’s restaurant in the downtown Loop area connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In 236 cities in the U.S. and roughly 100 more around the world from Sao Paulo to New Zealand and from Glasgow to Tokyo, according to protest spokespeople, fast food and other low-wage workers joined together to pressure employers like McDonald’s to raise their workers’ pay.
Organizers claimed that it was the largest protest by low-wage workers in U.S. history. And it may very well rank as one of the broadest global worker protests ever undertaken against multinational corporations—one reinforced by recent investigations and lawsuits in Europe against the company for violations of labor, health, safety, tax and other laws.
With its intense public relations campaign, the campaign amplifies the actions of fast food workers—some of whom walk off their assigned shifts as in a traditional strike. For brand-sensitive consumer product companies, many organizers believe, such bad publicity can cost companies greatly—and potentially open up new organizing possibilities.
These protests have also changed the political climate, both locally and nationally. Seattle and Sea-Tac in Washington and San Francisco have raised their minimum to $15 an hour. The same change may be possible sometime soon in both Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. In Chicago, politically embattled Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed under political pressure to raise the minimum to $13 over several years—far above what he would have contemplated a short while ago. The movement is likely to keep pressure over the coming year on Democratic candidates, even presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton, to advocate the higher pay levels.
Some established unions have played key roles in building this movement over the past two and a half years, most notably the Service Employees International Union—which has largely staffed and bankrolled the Fight for $15, but also by unions such as the United Food and Commercial Workers, the initiator of OURWalmart, and in Chicago, the small but militant United Electrical Workers, who founded Warehouse Workers for Justice. WWJ members—including some from a warehouse/assembly plant in the Chicago suburbs that makes paper cups for McDonald’s—joined in the April 15 rally.
JOLIET — Nearly three dozen warehouse workers who distribute cups for McDonald’s rallied Wednesday in downtown Joliet for higher wages while also alleging that Elite Staffing — a temp agency — stole workers’ wages.
Along with a call for higher wages, the rally served another purpose: To let Elite know workers filed a lawsuit in Cook County earlier that morningclaiming they are not being compensated for all hours worked at packaging companies in Will and Cook counties.
Tara Anderson, 45, of Joliet, was among those protesting outside the temp agency. She said she worked for Elite from August 2013 to December 2014 before being let go.
“They made an email saying to fire me, to give me my last check … because I kept calling for money that they owed me, that they docked out of my pay,” Anderson said. “[The agency] told me they have so many workers that I should understand they made a mistake. I don’t need to understand. It was Christmas time. I needed my money.”
Workers alleged they are required to show up as early as 3:30 a.m. for a 6 a.m. shift. Then Elite often buses them from warehouse to warehouse, only to be repeatedly turned away and sent home, said Mark Meinster, with Warehouse Workers for Justice, which organized the rally.
Workers who distribute cups for McDonalds will protest Elite Staffing in Joliet, a temp agency alleged to have stolen workers’ wages. Afterward they will board a bus to Chicago to join 10,000 low-wage workers from sectors including fast food, home health care and education to demand $15/hour and the right to form a union.
Workers will file a lawsuit on Wednesday alleging that they were not compensated for all of the hours they worked at packaging companies in Will and Cook counties. Workers at Elite must show up as early as 3:30 a.m. for a 6:00 a.m. shift. Often Elite buses them from warehouse to warehouse, only to be repeatedly turned away and sent home. Workers report that time is deducted from their paychecks for breaks or lunches that they don’t actually fully receive.
“We make cups for McDonalds, a $27 Billion company. They can afford to make sure we’re paid a living wage and that our rights are respected, said Austin Johnson, an Elite Staffing worker. Lorrie Wright, who was worked in several Joliet-area warehouses for large companies, says, “We are tired of poverty-level temp jobs. These are large companies that make money. It’s timefor them to step up and provide permanent jobs in the warehouses, not poverty-level temp jobs.”
Warehouse Workers for Justice has helped improve thousands of Illinois warehouse jobs by helping workers recover stolen wages and advocating for corporate and public policy changes that provide for stable, permanent living-wage jobs in Illinois’ thriving distribution sector. WWJ has offices in Joliet and Chicago.
From 91.5 WBEZ:
A Boston University economist is taking over as the nation’s Wage and Hour administrator. David Weil will enforce laws like the minimum wage and the 40-hour week. WBEZ listeners heard from Weil last month in our series about franchising. The franchising business model, he said, deserves part of the blame for low wages in fast food and other industries. We look at how this idea could play out in Weil’s new job at the Department of Labor. We’re joined by Leah Fried who is with the Warehouse Workers for Justice. She joins us to talk about warehouse workers and the wage issues they face.
One year after a Bangladesh factory that produced Walmart clothing collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people, the retailer is still turning a blind eye to dangerous conditions in their supply chain, according to a group of activists who staged a protest Thursday on the North Side of Chicago.
“We’ve been seeing problems after problems in Walmart’s contracted warehouses and it’s time Walmart step up and take responsibility and fix these problems,” said Mark Meinster, campaign director for Warehouse Workers for Justice.