Hundreds of Chicago fast food and retails workers walked off the job this morning in a one-day strike to demand wage hikes and union rights. The walk-out is part of an accelerating trend of labor actions by low-wage, non-union workers at some of the country’s largest corporate chains stores and restaurants.
The Fight for 15 campaign, named for its target wage hike, has been organizing workers for months to pull off today’s strike. Organizers expect employees of downtown Chicago chains including McDonald’s, Subway, Dunkin Donuts, Sears and Victoria’s Secret to join the action.
The Chicago strike comes on the heels the recent Black Friday Walmart worker actions and several similar walk-outs by New York City fast food workers in November and again earlier this month. Fast food and retail workers are often paid the minimum wage—$8.25 in Illinois—and many say their employers refuse to schedule them for enough hours.
“At the end of the day, it feels like I’ve done all of this to help everyone else, to help the store, help the managers, help the customers, but it doesn’t feel like anyone is looking out for me.” Macy’s employee Krystal Maxie-Collins told Josh Eidelson of Salon, who broke news of the strike last night. Eidelson writes:
Maxie-Collins, a mother of four who works part-time for the state minimum wage of $8.25 plus a commission, said she had initially been hesitant about the strike because of the risk of retaliation. But “what we are fighting for, the reason for doing it, kind of overrode the fear of doing it.” “Usually the things that are worth it,” she added, “you have to sacrifice for.”
The strikes emerge as minimum-wage service jobs fill the labor market space vacated by recession-time losses. According to a report by the National Employment Law Project, federal employment data reveals that 43 percent of all job growth in the last two years of so-called economic recovery are concentrated in service fields. More broadly, while low-wage jobs accounted for 21 percent of losses during the recession, they made up nearly 60 percent of labor market growth in the recovery. The inverse was true for mid-wage jobs.
As I noted after the first New York fast food strike last year, workers in the growing service sector tend to be women and people of color.
This new economy is populated by an increasingly non-white labor force. The average fast food worker is about 30 years old, female and, as with low-wage work in general, likely to be a person of color. In 2011, 28 percent of working black women and over 31 percent of working Latinas had jobs in the service sector, compared to about 20 percent of white women.
Further, black and Latino workers are concentrated in the lowest-paying jobs in the service sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
While most agree that the workers are a long way from winning wage increases, the community-based and non-union labor organizations leading the targeted, day-long walk-outs intend to bruise companies like Walmart and McDonald’s with a series of actions around the county. The corporations pull in billions in profits and generally pay employees as little as they’re legally allowed.
The actions have the financial support of the Service Employees International Union. In both Chicago and New York, workers say they hope to form a union.
“Fight for 15, seeks to put money back in the pockets of the 275,000 men and women who work hard in the city’s fast food and retail outlets, but still can’t afford basic necessities,” organizers said in a statement. “If workers were paid more, they’d spend more, helping to get Chicago’s economy moving again.”