By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
Carrying signs that read “I Am A Man” and “I Am A Person,” about 100 fast food and hospital workers united in joining a nationwide protest Monday, calling for a $15 hourly wage and the right to form a union in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation strike.
The workers representing the “Fight for $15,” and the “New Poor People’s Campaign,” coalition gathered outside of McDonald’s at 6515 S. Western.
Fifty-years ago, the sanitation workers were demanding an increase of $2 an hour, which according to march organizers would be the equivalent of $15.73 today after inflation. The sanitation workers wore huge black and white signs that said, “I Am A Man” just as the Memphis sanitation workers had done.
Carrying a bullhorn and signs, the workers chanted, “We are the workers. The mighty, mighty, workers, fighting for $15, and the union. What do we want? $15. When do we want it? Now. If we don’t get it, shut it down….”
According to the National Employment Law Project, people of color remain over-represented in low-paying industries such as fast food restaurants. More than half of Black workers and almost 60 percent of Latino workers are reportedly paid less than $15 an hour.
Jaquie Algee, vice president, director of Community Relations, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, KS, MO, and Reverend Janette Wilson, national executive director of PUSH Excel, joined the protestors.
The coalition focused on McDonald as one of the employers “who is not paying people adequate living wages for them to take care of themselves and their families,” Algee said. “People who have to work at McDonald’s either have to work double shifts to help earn a paycheck or work three other jobs to care for their families.”
“We are demanding $15 minimum wage and the right for their workers to organize,” Algee said. “We want fair and just treatment and respect on the job and more investments in the Black and brown communities.”
Reverend Wilson, representing Reverend Jesse Jackson who is in Memphis, said, “I suspect that if Dr. King were here today, he would be alarmed for the fact that we are still fighting for workers to earn a livable wage.”
Making it clear, Wilson said this fight is not just about fast food workers or one company. “It’s about those who clean hospital rooms, those who are service workers, housekeepers in hotels. These are people who work every day.” Wilson said 50 percent of the U.S. workers earn less than $15 an hour, 7.7 million workers are living below poverty today. It’s not right. It’s not fair.
“We join the fight at Rainbow PUSH for $15 an hour, and we urge all those who seek our votes in Illinois, those who are running for governor. We expect you to commit to $15 an hour as a minimum wage,” Wilson said. “Those who are running for state representative or senator, our litmus test for voting for you is what is your position on $15.” Wilson said they are challenging all of the candidates to pledge to the $15 an hour wage increase.
“Our votes matter. Our work matters.”
Tyree Johnson, a 26-year veteran of McDonald’s is a Fight for $15 leader. “We are continuing Dr. King’s legacy and the Black sanitation workers who went on strike 50-years ago. They went on strike for the same things we are fighting for today, higher wages, respect and dignity. It’s a shame these fast food corporations like McDonald’s generate all this money and can’t pay us a living wage of $15.”
Johnson said he has to work a second job and file for unemployment “because McDonald doesn’t pay me enough money in 26 years. Governor Rauner vetoed our $15 … but we’re going to veto you in 2018.”
LaKeena Whitfield, a SEIU HCII patient care technician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said they too are demanding $15 and the right to form a union “free of intimidation. Far too many hospital workers cannot afford health insurance. Some depend on financial assistance to make ends meet. That is not fair to the taxpayers because hospitals make too much money not to pay a livable wage to their employees. Rest in peace, Dr. King. I’ve got this now. Thank you,” she said after demanding $15 an hour.
William Price, 17, who attends Robeson High School and is a teenage father, said “I am doing this for my little girl…. I’m fighting for my future and her future. A lot of people look down on teen parents…but they should try to help us like funding programs,” they need to complete their education.