Fast-food workers protest in Chicago for more pay

September 4, 2014

The Associated Press

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Carmalita Johnson drums as protesters participate in a rally outside a McDonald’s on Chicago's south side as labor organizers escalate their campaign to unionize the industry's workers Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014.

Updated Sept. 4, 3:31 p.m.

A few hundred fast-food workers and their supporters blocked traffic on a busy South Side street between a McDonald's and a Burger King on Thursday morning until police moved in and took nearly two dozen into custody.

The protest, one of a number across the country, included workers chanting slogans to draw attention to their push to increase their salaries to $15 an hour — an hourly wage that's $5 more than many said they make after several years on the job.

The South Side protest was smaller than one staged in May outside McDonald's headquarters in suburban Chicago, when more than 130 of the several hundred protesters were arrested. But Thursday's location on a busy street had supporters waving and honking as they drove by.

A total of 19 protesters were taken into custody, cited for blocking traffic and then released, police said later Thursday.

Fast-food workers told of how their pay keeps them below the poverty line and is not nearly enough to support themselves or their families.

Tyree Johnson, 46, said after working at McDonald's for nearly most of his adult life, he makes $8.45 an hour, which he says combined with food stamps is barely enough to survive.

"I have to stay in a cheap hotel to keep my life going," he said of lodging that costs him $78 a week.

"I want to help my mom and my auntie (but) when they ask me for money, I don't have it," Johnson said shortly after his arrest. "I been there for 22 years and I can't help my family."

Protesters said they were confident that their employers eventually will increase wages, saying there are signs that their efforts are paying off both nationally and in Chicago, where this week Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order requiring city contractors to pay $13 an hour.

"Ultimately, our fight has increased the wages of 7 million workers in the whole country," said Irma Diaz, a McDonald's worker. "We're winning but we're not going to stop."

Organizers said there was another morning protest outside a McDonald's in Rockford and one planned later in the day in the Chicago suburb of Cicero. Police in Rockford said they did not immediately know if anyone was taken into custody.