Low-wage workers walk out across Chicago

August 1, 2013

Shannon Heffernan

Shannon Heffernan/WBEZ
Matthew Camp raises his fist alongside fellow strikers rallying in support of raising the minimum wage

Workers at dozens of national chains went on strike in Chicago’s Loop today. It’s the second day of demonstrations.

At 7 a.m. Thursday, two Subway employees walked out of their jobs to join cheering demonstrators. Additional staff say they won’t show up for their shifts.

Amani Johnson says he’s worked at Subway for six years and only makes $8.25.

“There are things in life I want to do, like go back to school, which I can’t afford at this time. I have two kids I have to feed and clothe. To stay at that same [wage], I deserve more,” said Johnson.

Demonstrators will continue protesting at stores across Chicago’s Loop, including Wendy’s, Sally’s Beauty Supply, McDonald's, Macy’s, Nike, Victoria’s Secret and more.

Striking workers say they want their wages raised to $15 an hour. In an emailed statement, the National Restaurant Association said a significant increase in the minimum wage would hurt the private sector’s ability to create jobs. Economist are divided over the issue of whether increased wages would actually impact employment, while strikers say it’s a matter of a company's priorities.

Pay was not the only concern. Workers at the Halsted Whole Foods said they earned more than many fellow strikers, but called for an end to a policy they say punishes them for missing a day of work even if they are sick or attending a family funeral. They say the policy gives workers points for every absence, with six points resulting in dismissal. Management at the Whole Foods store declined to comment.

“The reality is coming out of [college] right at the beginning of the economic crisis, I couldn’t find a better job. A lot of us are stuck in this position,” said Matthew Camp, 32, a member of the Workers Organizing Committee. “The service industry is the fastest growing industry in the country right now.”

The numbers support Camp’s assessment, more than half of the jobs created during the economic recovery are low-wage.

Some strikers said conditions have improved since the first low-wage walkout earlier this year. Many workers said the biggest benefit of the demonstrations has been that they now view their fellow workers as family.

Organisers say the demonstrations will culminate at 5pm at a McDonalds on Navy Pier.


Shannon Heffernan is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her at shannon_h