By Patrick Forrest, Chicago Crusader
Thousands of McDonald’s and other fast-food cooks and cashiers on Monday, September 5, protested in Chicago and a record 400 cities, joining hospital housekeepers in the Fight for $15 minimum wage, sending a strong message to candidates running for governor in 2018.
Chicago’s fast food workers held a strike to underscore the demand for unions. Workers and allies spoke out about raising Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 at the McDonalds on 18th Street and Blue Island Ave. in the Pilsen neighborhood.
The crowd then marched, carrying signs reading “Illinois Needs Unions” and “Unions are the Solution to a Rigged Economy.” Among the marchers, was Senator and gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss. Workers took over major intersections along the march and stopped at other fast food restaurants like Subway and Dunkin Donuts. A banner was dropped from the 18th Street Pink Line station that read “Union Power = Community Power.”
The day continued with a massive rally against Gov. Bruce Rauner at the Thompson Center. State workers, fast food, childcare, airport, nursing home, and other low-wage workers denounced the Governor’s attacks against unions and working class families and pledged to “veto” his re-election, or vote against him, in the 2018 election.
Rauner said “helping low-income families and individuals get out of poverty is a top priority,” but on Friday, August 25, he vetoed a bill that would have raised Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Rauner argued that a higher minimum wage would hurt businesses and ultimately reduce jobs.
Adriana Alvarez, a McDonald’s worker in Chicago said Rauner should respect citizens’ right to form a union.
“We’re striking not just for $15 an hour but for union rights too,” she said. “We won $15 an hour in Illinois, but our governor caved to corporate special interests and vetoed it. If McDonald’s respected our right to a union, we wouldn’t have to depend on politicians like Bruce Rauner to approve our raises. We could negotiate for them ourselves, and win other benefits that would help us take care of our families and strengthen our communities.”
Many on the Democratic side of the upcoming race for the Governor’s seat issued statements in support of the protest for the wage increase, including Democratic candidate Chris Kennedy.
“The workers in the jobs that dominate our state today – workers in hospitals, in healthcare, and the service sector – they need unions,” said Kennedy in a statement. “I’m talking about strong organizations of workers with the bargaining power to make sure everyone sees their fair share of the profits.”
After the rally, the Rev. William Barber II and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry led a march with workers on the American Hospital Association headquarters to highlight the need for unions in the fast-growing healthcare sector, which now plays a big role in job markets in cities throughout the Midwest.
In Chicago, the largest private employer is Advocate Health Care. In Cleveland, it’s the Cleveland Clinic, followed by University Hospitals. In Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic is the state’s largest employer, followed by Allina Health System. In Pittsburgh, U.S Steel is no longer the city’s biggest employer: it’s the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“Hospitals are the biggest employers in many cities and generate enormous revenues,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. “There is no excuse for them to keep wages so low that thousands of their nursing assistants, housekeepers, and dietary workers live in poverty. It’s time for our elected leaders to stand with working people who want to unite together in unions to raise their wages.”