Fast food and retail workers march on the Magnificent Mile

December 13, 2012

(WBEZ/Lewis Wallace)
Marchers held signs representing their neighborhoods.

A worker advocacy group is asking downtown businesses to pay their employees at least $15 an hour.

Over 100 people marched on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Thursday to protest low wages for retail and fast food workers as a part of the Fight For 15 Campaign, a new project of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.

“I literally live paycheck to paycheck, like right now I have a dollar and thirty-six cent in my bank account,” said Kenyanna Brown. She works at Victoria’s Secret in Watertower Place for $8.75 an hour; Illinois’ current minimum wage is $8.25. “If I didn’t live with my mom I’d be on the streets, I wouldn’t be able to provide for myself.”

Protesters delivered a letter to the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, a downtown business group, and asked for a response by Dec. 22.

Brown said she was part of the small group who launched the campaign last month. The committee is affiliated with the community organization Action Now, and many who attended the protest wore Service Employees International Union (SEIU) shirts and hats. Protesters represented their home neighborhoods with large canvas signs.

A recent study by the National Employment Law Project says that although only 21 percent of jobs lost in the recession were in low-wage occupations, jobs paying less that $13.84 per hour account for 58 percent of new positions created since 2008. Of those new low-wage jobs, the sectors with the most growth are retail sales and food preparation.

And more low-wage workers in Chicago are above the age of 30 or supporting a whole household, according to a study affiliated with the campaign.

“I think that there’s a misconception of the people that do work for minimum wage,” said Amie Crawford, another organizer. She’s 56 and works at downtown health-food store Protein Bar after struggling to find work in her profession as an interior designer. “I feel that they - we - are dismissed because we’re high school kids or we’re retired people that just want extra money...that’s not true.”

Fight For 15 has links to a similar effort in New York that organized a fast food worker walk-out in November.