By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader
“We’re overworked and underpaid, we’re overworked and underpaid, all we want is $15, because we’re overworked and underpaid.”
That was the chorus protestors sang in the rain, outside the construction site of the new McDonald’s headquarters at 115 N. Carpenter on Tuesday morning. They were there as part of a three-day protest against the fast food giant, demanding a $15 an hour wage be paid to workers. The demonstrations coincide with the McDonald’s shareholders meetings that are scheduled to take place at the current headquarters in Oak Brook this week. Last year demonstrators camped outside the current headquarters in tents to get their point across.
“We need a McDonald’s that pays us a living wage,” said Ashley Bruce, a Fight for $15 leader and McDonald’s employee of four years. “We need $15 an hour to sustain our families. We can’t keep trying to make ends meet like this. This is not working for us. We deserve to live. We’re barely making it on $10.50 an hour.”
The national movement to reach a minimum wage of $15 an hour has gained momentum over the past two years. In some states like Minnesota, fast food workers are making at least $13.50 an hour. Job experts say it all depends on the market you are in. Some states are in dire need of fast food workers so they pay more.
“If McDonald’s wants to have a headquarters in Chicago, they also need to pay a living wage,” said Alderman Carlos Rosa (35th). “It’s wrong that they reap billions of dollars and workers still have to use the Link card to make ends meet.”
Other groups and local clergy joined McDonald’s workers at Tuesday’s protest. They participated in a mock groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremony, like McDonald’s leaders have done at the site of their future Chicago headquarters.
Female McDonald’s employees have also complained about being sexually harassed at work, mostly by store managers. Organizers of the protest say it is an issue not being talked about as much as it should, seeing that many of the managers are men in their twenties and many of the workers are usually young teenage girls.
“My vision of McDonald’s is one that respects women, and is an ally in the fight to end gender violence,” said Sheerine Alemzadeh, of Healing to Action & Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence. “McDonald’s should use its enormous power as the second largest employer in the world to create industry wide norms that promote dignity for all workers, regardless of their gender.”
In May, 2002 a 33-year-old manager of a South Side McDonald’s was arrested for murdering a 17-year-old female employee. Tony Fountain is currently serving a 95-year sentence at Menard Correctional Center. Fountain had impregnated Chavanna Prather and when she asked him for money for an abortion, he refused, became enraged and beat, stabbed and shot the teen until she died. That case is still remembered by many, who say McDonald’s needs to do more to protect female employees.
In October, 15 separate sexual harassment complaints from McDonald’s workers were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Current and former workers who are members of “Fight for 15” in California, New York, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois and Florida filed the allegations with the EEOC. They include stories of female workers having their breasts and bottoms fondled, having supervisors “hit on” them at work, and other male employees making lewd comments about them.
A spokesperson for McDonald’s said the company has a policy against sexual harassment and says it works to create a safe environment within all of its properties. “At McDonald’s, we and our independent owner-operators share a deep commitment to the respectful treatment of everyone,” spokes- person Terri Hickey said.
Over 200 people participated in Tuesday’s demonstration. Later that day another group marched from the Rock N Roll McDonald’s downtown to Trump Tower. They were planning on showing up at the shareholders meeting in Oak Brook the following day.