PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday April 2nd, 2015, 1:13pm

Chicago Fast Food Workers Call McDonald's Wage Increase A 'Slap In The Face' (VIDEO)

Chicago fast food workers and their allies from Action Now protested Thursday in response to McDonald's announcement that it will soon raise wages, but only for some employees.

Chicago fast food workers say McDonald's plan to raise wages by $1 for employees at corporate-owned stores is a "slap in the face."

Fast food workers and their allies from Action Now vented their frustrations over the company's new wage announcement during a Thursday morning protest at a South Side McDonald's in the Washington Heights neighborhood.

It was one of many Fight for $15 protests held around the country today in response to McDonald's announcement on Wednesday. The company plans to raise employee wages at corporate-owned restaurants and provide additional benefits to workers starting July 1.

The new benefits and wage package only applies to employees at U.S. corporate-owned McDonald's restaurants, which would affect some 90,000 workers and 10 percent of the fast food chain's locations nationwide. Most U.S. McDonald's locations are owned by franchisees. Franchise owners, according to McDondald's, can make their own decisions regarding employee wages and benefits.

On July 1, McDonald's plans to raise wages to $1 above the local minimum wage for new employees and also adjust the wages of current workers. Additionally, corporate-owned McDonald's restaurants will provide employees of more than one year paid personal time off or pay them for the time if they opt not to take the break. Tuition assistance and other educational opportunities will also be offered to employees.

"We've been working on a comprehensive benefits package for our employees -- the people who bring our brand to life for customers every day in our U.S. restaurants," McDonald's President and CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement. "We've listened to our employees and learned that -- in addition to increased wages -- paid personal leave and financial assistance for completing their education would make a real difference in their careers and lives."

McDonald's announcement came one day after fast food workers with the nationwide Fight for $15 campaign said they are going on strike in 200 U.S. cities, including Chicago, on April 15. Since 2012, fast food employees with the Fight for $15 campaign have been calling for a $15 minimum wage and union representation. A growing number of low-paid workers have joined the movement for higher wages and better working conditions as the Fight for $15 movement spreads to industries beyond fast food.

At Thursday's Chicago protest, workers and Action Now members protested inside and outside the McDonald's at 95th and Halsted Streets, chanting call-and-response style, "What do we want? $15. When do we want it? Now!"

Chicago McDonald's workers at today's protest said the $1 wage increase and additional benefits the fast food giant is set to provide won't even affect them because they work at franchise locations.

One of those McDonald's workers is Nancy Salgado. The mother of two has worked at McDonald's for 12 years and currently earns $8.35 an hour, 10 cents more than the state's minimum wage. Salgado, 28, works at a McDonald's in Logan Square.

"The raise that McDonald's just announced yesterday for a dollar, it's a slap in my face, because I'm trying to raise my kids," she said, as tears pooled in her eyes. "This is only helping 10 percent of the workers.

"I am mad because a dollar is not a difference, and it's not helping me in any way," Salgado added. "I work for a franchise McDonald's, and that's why I'm stepping up on (April) 15, because our voice needs to be heard."

Salgado thinks McDonald's made its wage announcement the day after fast food workers publicized their strike plans for April 15 to discourage protests.

"You're not going to shut us off," Salgado said of McDonald's. "We're going on strike."

As part of Fight for $15's national day of strikes on April 15, Chicago fast food workers and their allies are planning daylong protests across the city that will culminate with a large rally near the University of Illinois at Chicago's student center in the late afternoon.

Here's more from Salgado and scenes from today's demonstration:

Chicago's minimum wage, meanwhile, is set to go up from the current $8.25 to $10 in July, as part of an ordinance approved by the city council in December. By 2019, Chicago's hourly minimum wage will increase to $13 under the ordinance.

A raise to $10 in Chicago is "also not fair for me," Salgado said, adding that she will still have difficulties making ends meet on $10 an hour. "I still can't feed my kids on it. I still have to depend on a Link card, and that's not fair."

Another Chicago McDonald's employee at today's protest, Tyree Johnson, 46, has worked for the company for 23 years. He works at a McDonald's in the Loop and earns $8.45 an hour.

Johnson said the mayor-backed ordinance that will raise Chicago's minimum wage to $13 by 2019 represents "an act of desperation" by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's currently in a re-election battle against challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia.

As for McDonald's planned wage bump of $1, Johnson also called it "a slap in the face."

"For me, 23 years working at McDonald's, and that's all you're going to pay me," he asked. "And I don't even benefit from it ... I'm working for a franchise."

Johnson said he has to live in a "run-down" hotel because he cannot afford rent elsewhere.

"I can't afford a decent apartment with a refrigerator and a stove," Johnson said. "I got to live in a run-down hotel on what they pay me -- poverty wages."

Asked why he's stayed at McDonald's, Johnson said, "Because I'm not a quitter. I believe in fighting, and (the) Fight for $15 is a step in the right direction."


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