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Fast-Food Strikes Spread To Chicago, Low-Wage Retail Workers Join Walkout

Memo Pad Politics

Fast-Food Strikes Spread To Chicago, Low-Wage Retail Workers Join Walkout


An estimated 500 low-wage workers went on strike in Chicago Wednesday, demanding an hourly wage of $15 an hour and the right to organize without retaliation. The Chicago strike follows similar actions in New York City, which has seen two major labor disputes in the past six months — including the largest strike in the fast-food industry’s history.

Under the banner of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, the strikers are demanding an hourly wage of $15 and the right to organize without retaliation.

“We’re the ones working our butts off,” Silvia Garduno, an employee of Sally Beauty Supply, told The Nation‘s Micah Uetricht. “$8.91 is ridiculous—especially being downtown. We’re worth more.” Downtown Chicago’s “Loop” sees about $4 billion in retail and fast-food revenue each year.

A recent study found that 31.2 percent of payroll Chicago-area employees ages 18-64 worked in low-wage jobs paying $12 or less per hour.

In a speech last month, Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom argued that stagnating wages for the lowest-paid workers was exacerbating inequality and impeding economic recovery.

“Long before the recession — decades before, in fact — income data show only sluggish increases in real incomes for low- and middle-income American households, and more rapid increases for high-income households, resulting in a much greater concentration of income among those at the very top of the income distribution,” she said.

McDonalds, for instance, has experienced 80 percent growth in its stock price since 2008 and has $2.3 billion cash on hand. During the recovery, 58 percent of new jobs created were low-wage positions.

“The overarching message here is we don’t just have a jobs deficit, we have a ‘good jobs’ deficit,” said Annette Bernhardt, a policy co-director at the National Employment Law Project.

The benefits of our slow recovery are mostly going to the richest while work stoppages — labor’s most powerful tool — have become increasingly rare. That’s why activists are excited by the actions coming out of the service industry, which is expanding rapidly. Uetricht explains:

…the willingness on the part of labor to begin campaigns loudly and publicly with walkoffs is a part of a recent “strike-first strategy,” in which workers are bypassing the U.S.’s notoriously anti-worker labor laws whose typical process for forming a union allows employers to destroy organizing drives in their nascent phases. Instead, workers are walking off the job as part of a highly visible attempt to gain the support of their co-workers. Workers in Walmart’s retail and warehouse divisions took the same step late last year, and won some small but important victories.

Low wages have a definite cost for taxpayers. A 2004 study found that the federal government was spending $2,100 annually per Walmart employee. One study suggests that as many as 80 percent of Walmart’s employees receive food stamps.

For insight into the walkout earlier this month and interviews with two of the many who are risking their livelihoods in this “new front in the battle being fought by some of America’s lowest-paid workers,” check out this segment from MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Photo: TheDreamSky via Flickr.com


  1. tax payer April 24, 2013

    They need to get a College Degree, so they can earn more money. Serving food to customers isn’t a skill, so fire them and replace them with Obama’s illegals.

    1. charleo1 April 24, 2013

      Sorry! That type of thinking, is responsible for a lot of the economic problems,
      and much of the growing public debt, I’m going to bet you’re very concerned,
      just what is causing all this debt? You want to blame illegals? Or, do you want
      to find the real drivers of public debt? I’m guessing you do. But, here’s the deal.
      It doesn’t allow you to bash poor people. And, it reveals the real slackers, and
      users, and purveyors of public debt, are the McDonalds, the Burger Kings, and
      the Wal-Marts, of the U.S.A. I assume you would like to pay less taxes? So, why
      is your knee jerk solution, to fire the workers, and find illegals that you think
      are what? Cheaper? You, and me, and every tax paying person, are subsidizing
      every low paid, part time, employee of these multi-billion dollar corporations.
      But, the worker needs to be fired? So they can rely on our tax dollars for not
      only food stamps, and medical care, but also rent, groceries, and unemployment
      benefits? That’s, just fine with McDonalds. Somebody else’s money can pay
      the bills their rock bottom, pay, and hiring policies are creating. And they’re
      glad there are still people around willing to allow them to keep pocketing the
      profits. And the more than 10 million food service employees? Well, we can
      continue to keep our tax dollars flowing to make up the difference between a
      living wage, and what this vital, and important sector of the economy is being
      paid for their labor.

      1. tax payer April 24, 2013

        They need to get jobs that will pay them more and serving food isn’t a high paying skill. No one is going to pay $15.00 an hour to a food server, when they can hire two for the price of one. I mentioned illegals because they will be able to get jobs now and not have to be paid under the table, if Congress gives them the green light to stay here, and take jobs meant for Americans. It was meant as a joke, but in reality it’s going to happen before we know it.

        1. charleo1 April 24, 2013

          Well, no. As long as they can avoid taxes, while each of
          their employees creates a liability, that is paid for by all of
          us. What would help a great deal in this country, if the
          price on the product reflected what we actually pay.
          What would be the cost of a hamburger, if we added in
          the true costs of low paid workers? What would be the
          price of a gallon of gas, if we included in the cost of
          keeping open the Straits of Hormuz? Both are hidden costs.
          But, we all pay them just the same. What would help the
          economy, the rising debt, and the working poor, is raising
          the minimum wage. Elizabeth Warren calculated, if Americans
          were paid on the basis of their productivity, the average
          wage in this country would be $22 dollars an hour. Where,
          she asks, is the other $14.? That’s a very good question,
          we should all think about.

          1. tax payer April 24, 2013

            The profits go to the owners of any company and the workers get what they earn per hour. Imagine the owners paying their workers three or four times what they earn right now. This would be a good reason to sell the company and live off the interest of the sale.

          2. charleo1 April 24, 2013

            Yes, profits are very important. But, here’s the deal.
            Profits are great. But not if they come at the expense
            of the overall economy. Low wages depress demand.
            Weak demand, causes more unemployment. More
            unemployment weakens, or exerts downward pressure
            on wages. If the component in this equation is the gov.
            running deficits to create a net, to prevent widespread
            loss of access to medical care, or housing, due to the
            failure of basic support of lower paying jobs. Then, one
            of three things must happen. One, millions lose access to healthcare, homelessness increases. Two: Business taxes
            go up, to pay for the social inadequacies that are the result
            of those low wages. Three: Barring that, which they largely
            have. Then, the Gov. must run deficits, since the low
            wages of this growing class of working poor, prohibits
            the levying of extra taxes there. The facts are, the major
            corporations have seen record breaking profits. And the
            numbers show, these gains have been realized at the expense of the hourly paid, workforce. A rebalancing
            is very necessary at this time.

          3. Dominick Vila April 25, 2013

            Low wages also stifle consumerism, which is the key to growth and prosperity in a consumer-oriented economy such as ours.

          4. charleo1 April 25, 2013

            More people having more expendable income= Jobs!
            What you say is so true, and so fundamental. Are we
            to assume the opposing party, could possibly have a
            differing opinion? NO Way!

          5. Independent1 April 25, 2013

            Nobody is really talking about companies upping salaries by 3 or 4 times – even Elizabeth Warren was talking about raising the minimum wage to around 10.10/hour – that’s asking for employers to raise the minimum wage by about 2.60. And Elizabeth pointed out that for McDonald’s to do that, all they would have to do is raise the price of one combo meal that now costs $7.19 to $7.23, yup – just raise the price of one of their combo meals by 4 cents and they’d cover their costs for raising the minimum wage from around 7.50 now to 10.10.

            Admittedly, some mom and pop shops would have a harder time doing that -, which is why it’s my feeling that there should be two minimum wages – one for small mom and pop type businesses and a higher minimum wage for large comglomerates like McDonald’s, Burger King, WalMart, etc that can easily cover the larger minimum wage because of their sale volumes. Walmart could probably cover raising the minimum wage to 10.10 by simply adding 1 cent to half the almost million items that they sell. Instead, WalMart purposely forces about 85% of its workers to exist on below poverty level wages by restricting their hours so they don’t have to pay them full-time wages and benefits. And that’s from the family that has more wealth than 110 million Americans.

          6. ChiHD April 25, 2013

            Where did the other $14 go? If we look at income growths over the past 2 decades, I’d say it it went to increases in executive pay and bonuses.

          7. charleo1 April 25, 2013

            Exactly! And they keep talking about wealth redistribution.
            and class warfare. They remind me of the philandering
            husband, that constantly accuses his wife of cheating on him.

        2. Independent1 April 24, 2013

          Charle pointed out that Elizabeth Warren asked where the other $14 went that people should be making if minimum wage had kept pace with productivity. She also pointed out that for McDonald’s to cover their cost for raising the minimum wage from around $7.50 now to $10.10/hr, they would only have to raise the cost of a combo meal that now costs $7.19 by .04 cents; that’s right by 4 measly cents to give their employees around a $3/hour raise.
          Are you aware that WalMart purposely keeps over 85% of its workers below the number of hours required for them to pay them a full-time salary and give them benefits? They purposely force the vast majority of their employees to live on below the poverty level wages; and they actually have classes that teach them how to fill out the federal forms to apply for food stamps and welfare so they can collect welfare from the government to supplement their incomes to eke out a living. Can you even begin to realize how little it would cost Walmart to pay their employees a living wage??? Walmart sells over about a million products to billio

          1. charleo1 April 24, 2013

            Very well put. And, also sadly true.

    2. Dominick Vila April 24, 2013

      Obama’s illegals? This may surprise you, the largest influx of illegal immigrants in the USA took place between the early 1980s and 2007. President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants in four years than George W. Bush did in 8, and about one million illegal immigrants have left the country voluntarily since he took office, admittedly, because of the effects of the Great Recession.

      1. onedonewong April 25, 2013

        and your source for those numbers?? Ohhh Janet Napalitono yea that’s the ticket

        1. I have the numbers right here in my former nicotine stained hands. 100% of the pilgrims were illegal immigrants! Ha! Think I’m stupid or sumetheng, I know my statisticks? Go Rush…Go Rush…

    3. John Pigg April 24, 2013

      How many kids with college degrees are unemployed? This is what people do in a free society. They strike, Reagan loved Unions they allow the worker to directly negotiate with management. What is not to like.

      I have a college degree and was unemployed/underemployed for a year. Now I have a job abroad with better opportunities than I can get in the states.

      Without a healthy manufacturing sector college level jobs simply are not sustainable.

      1. Independent1 April 24, 2013

        Do you realize that the unemployment rate in America for people with a bachelor’s degree is 3.7%? Far lower than the overall 7.6% rate? And Reagan loved unions? What planet are you living on. Reagan tried to bust unions – he’s the one that fired all the air traffic controllers that were trying to negotiate for higher pay.

        1. John Pigg April 25, 2013

          Reagan advocated that membership in a Union was a basic right. Reagan backed several idea’s that protected American manufacturing from foreign competition. I am hardly a Reagan lover but he is a good example for the ideological differences between conservatives in the 80’s versus conservatives in 1210’s.

          Yes, I will acknowledge that getting a college degree lowers your risk of unemployment. But acting like a college degree is the all you need to make a living is false and that is becoming more evident. Without a healthy manufacturing sector and without jobs that allow labor to make a livable wage there will always be a limit on the college level jobs that can be offered.

          Just because I consider Reagan pro-union doesn’t necessarily mean that he was pro-air traffic controllers union.

          1. Dominick Vila April 25, 2013

            In today’s society, and considering the tremendous challenges we face from countries that place a greater emphasis on higher education than we do, a college degree is an absolute necessity if the goal is to be successful and grow financially and intellectually. However, the ability to find and keep a good job in the USA depends on many factors, some of which go beyond formal education. There are degrees that are not marketable and, ultimately, employers and managers focus more on measurable results. initiative, innovation, and productivity than academic credentials.

          2. John Pigg April 25, 2013

            Exactly, a college degree is a smart move but in the end we have to have livable job alternatives to have a strong economy. An over reliance on the service industry has led to depressed wages and a lack of job benefits.

            To have a lot of college level jobs we need to have a more diversified job market.

          3. Independent1 April 25, 2013

            Sorry John, but your memory on a lot of things seems to be very distorted. Here’s just a part of an excerpt from a piece by Dick Meister that paints the correct picture for Reagan on Unions – he was a union hater:

            Reagan’s Republican predecessors treated union leaders much as they treated Democratic members of Congress — as people to be fought with at times, but also as people to be bargained with at other times. But Reagan engaged in precious
            little bargaining. He waged almost continuous war against organized labor.

            He had little apparent reason to fear labor politically, with opinion polls at the time showing that unions were opposed by nearly half of all Americans and that nearly half of those who belonged to the unions had voted for him in 1980 and again in 1984.

            Reagan,in any case, was a true ideologue of the anti-labor political right. Yes, he had been president of the Screen
            Actors Guild, but he was notoriously pro-management, leading the way to a strike-ending agreement in 1959 that greatly weakened the union and finally resigning under membership pressure before his term ended.

            Reagan’s war on labor began in the summer of 1981, when he fired 13,000 striking air traffic controllers and destroyed their union. As Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson noted, that was “an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little
            or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear — illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad.”

            Reagan gave dedicated union foes direct control of the federal agencies that were designed originally to protect and further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.

            Most important was Reagan’s appointment of three management
            representatives to the five-member National Labor Relations Board which oversees
            union representation elections and labor-management bargaining, They included
            NLRB Chairman Donald Dotson, who believed that “unionized labor relations have
            been the major contributors to the decline and failure of once-healthy
            industries” and have caused “destruction of individual freedom.”

            further the rights and interests of workers and their unions.

          4. John Pigg April 25, 2013

            I can’t stand Reagan either, I believe his economic policies left a lot of losers with only a few winners. But I disagree with branding him as Anti-Union.

            His argument against the air-traffic controllers was that their strike was illegal because they were a public union. I think we have the same mentality towards law enforcement and fire depts.

            True, Reagan did put those that sided with management in bureaucratic positions of power and responsibility. But this was more from a desire to stimulate the economy and loosen some labor restrictions.

            Did Reagan at times go to war with Unions? Yes, I believe that he did. But at the same time he protected the auto industry from foreign competition and enacted other forms of protectionism.

            Reagan said that the right to join a Union was representative of a free and prosperous society, and I believe he meant it.

  2. Dominick Vila April 24, 2013

    People in the hospitality, agricultural and retail sectors of our economy are definitely underpaid and seldom get any benefits or upward mobility opportunities. Many are high school dropouts, and most do not have any kind of formal training or marketable trade. Threatening with retaliation if they have the audacity to demand livable wages is not the answer. Most fast food owners cover their operating expenses by noon. Everything after that is gravy. The solution includes offering training, after a probationary period, to give them the opportunities that all American workers deserve.
    It is true, however, that if business owners are forced to pay higher wages, they are about to take a hit, they will simply pass the added cost to consumers, which will eventually result in higher inflation with serious consequences to our economy. In the end, we must all decide what kind of nation we want to be, one that takes advantage of some segments of our society or one with a conscience consistent with the values that we purportedly have.

    1. tax payer April 24, 2013

      You have a point, but I wouldn’t pay these people $15.00 an hour because that’s what most cooks earn in those places. There are good paying jobs out there, but not too many people want to get up at 4:00 a.m. and work weekends, so they don’t apply for those jobs. They want to work Monday-Friday and no weekends, and 8 to 5, if possible. I had to be at work at 4:30 a.m. and I didn’t get home until 6:00 p.m., so I know there are jobs that pay a good wage, but you have to want to work, and also the will to get up before the sun rises. I worked four hours of overtime daily, so that gave me a good check. I finally was able to be off weekends, but after being there for ten years.

    2. John Pigg April 24, 2013

      I don’t see it that way at all. I agree that workers in various industries are unemployed, but its not the governments responsibility to set wages. It is up to the workers to decide enough is enough and choose to Unionize.

      Only through Unions can workers improve employment practices. I wish these strikers well…..

    3. onedonewong April 25, 2013

      Obviously you have never run any business let alone a fast food franchise

  3. Dorothy Anderson April 24, 2013

    Guess more people in Chicago will pack a brown paper lunch. Cost of health care plus hourly wage will make it difficult for many under capitalized franchisees to make a profit.
    You are not an highly paid CEO if you are a fast food franchisee!.

    1. Mark Ginn April 25, 2013

      You’re correct Dorothy. The only people making money is McDonald’s & Burger King corporate. The franchisees are getting screwed just like the workers

      1. ralphkr April 25, 2013

        Really, Mark? The owners of a franchise such as McDonald’s do not make the big bucks? That is amazing and I wonder how the gentlemen I knew who had a KFC franchise was able to pay cash for his brand new Cessna twin or another one who has McDonald’s affords the payments on his $800K house and a new BMW 740 (cash sale) every other year?

    2. John Pigg April 25, 2013

      Have you seen the inflation due to the stimulus over the past few years? You know the dollar isn’t worth what it was in 08. And you are surprised that in one of the wealthiest cities in the US the workers feel like they should be making more.

      Yes, a dollar goes a lot further in Kansas than it does in Chicago or NYC. Uping their wage a few bucks isn’t a lot. You should be lauding these guys for dealing with their wage the old fashioned way instead of petitioning a raise in the minimum wage.

  4. rogjo@aol.com April 24, 2013

    Its time, Reagan done a lot of damage with his go to jail attitude against the Pilots exc- remember, bust a union job, get some brownie points, it hurt every one in this country, look at the wage issue from Reagan until now, dog eat dog, every one for them self does not work in this country for most of us, support better wages

    1. onedonewong April 25, 2013

      With the Pilots… thanks for your stupefying comment

      1. Me? I never make stupeid commentz’s. Everything I say is facktual and I have numberz to prove it.

  5. ralphkr April 25, 2013

    I see all this talk about slightly over $2 an hour (plus tips) to $10 an hour and I wonder, “where are these people when I need work done?” I pay the guy that mows my lawn $50 an hour and the neighbor kid who pulls my weeds $40 an hour and they are the cheapest ones I can find. Those fellows with the pretty signs on their trucks charge over $65 an hour to mow lawns and a friend of mine offered to paint my deck for only $75 an hour (he usually charges $90 but gave me a discount because he could just walk across the street instead of driving across town).

    1. tax payer April 25, 2013

      You are paying too much, so they must be Union. I hired one ( one ) day and he stole my weed eater, and then he came back to ask for his pay. He denied stealing my weed eater, so I denied him his money. I took a chance on hiring this ( doper ) and I will keep my eyes open from now on.

      1. ralphkr April 25, 2013

        Of course, I am paying too much but I have never heard of any lawn mowing union nor of anyone working on his own being a member of a union so he can have a union rep deal with his boss (himself). Compared to the company men who charge $15 an hour more (they are not union either but they have more overhead in the form of bookkeepers and advertising) I am paying well under the going rate for yard work in this area. Oh yeah, those prices I quoted do not included the 8.4% sales tax this state collects on labor.

    2. roguerunners April 25, 2013

      I would be more than happy to mow your lawn for $20.00 an Hour!

      1. ralphkr April 25, 2013

        I used to pay the people who took care of my mother’s yard $25 a month which worked out to well under $10 an hour. No, they were not illegal but born in the US and they took care of her yard for over 20 years. Started out with the father & his brother and ended up with 2 of the youngest kids at the end of the 2 decades when I sold her house.

  6. Bob Wagner April 25, 2013

    Something else to consider; time was a lot of these same people would be working manufacturing jobs and making a decent wage. Somebody care to remind me where all the factory jobs went?

    1. Zaphod April 25, 2013

      McD’s and BurgerThing haven’t figured out how to outsource the jobs to India and China. Yet.

    2. onedonewong April 25, 2013

      Overseas thanks to the same unions who are now wanting to recruit fast food workers

    3. tax payer April 26, 2013

      Mexico and they pay them $600.00 pesos in most of those companies every week. That comes out to about $50.00 a week.

  7. onedonewong April 25, 2013

    That’s about 1% of those working for fast food. Let the public decide if they are willing to pay more for less

  8. tax payer April 26, 2013

    In the future more companies will be hiring part-time workers, so they don’t have to provide health insurance or give them a raise every year. Four hours a day for every employee and another group finishes the day. This is much better for them ( employers ) to make a bigger profit and many companies are doing it right now, so be ready to lose four hours a day in pay. Who will be hired to replace the four hours you lose? Ask Obama. I used to worked for a company that had part-time workers and they earned a good income ( $ 13.50 an hour ), but they were provided no Health Insurance, and they were happy since it was their second career since they were already getting a Pension from their former employer.


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