PI Original Ashlee Rezin Thursday April 16th, 2015, 2:25am

On Tax Day, Thousands Join Fight For $15 Protest In Chicago (VIDEO)

More than 5,000 low-wage workers and their allies rallied at the University of Illinois at Chicago and protested throughout the city's downtown streets during a national day of strikes Wednesday afternoon - Tax Day - to call for a $15 minimum wage and union recognition. Progress Illinois was there for the action.

More than 5,000 low-wage workers and their allies rallied at the University of Illinois at Chicago and protested throughout the city's downtown streets during a national day of strikes Wednesday afternoon - Tax Day - to call for a $15 minimum wage and union recognition.

"I live paycheck to paycheck and it's very hard," said Tameika Wright, 22, a resident of the city's Austin neighborhood on the West Side who has worked at McDonald's for more than three years.

As the Fight For $15 campaign gains traction across the country, Chicago was one of more than 200 cities to host nationwide protests. A growing number of minimum wage workers, not just those in fast food, have joined the picket line. On Wednesday, adjunct professors, airport workers, security guards, retail workers, college students, cab drivers, child care workers and leaders with the Black Lives Matter movement joined fast food employees to demand better pay and working conditions in the Windy City.

Wright, who is four months pregnant, earns $9 hourly and said it's difficult to pay her bills every month.

"We have to pay lights, gas, rent. We have kids to take care of and we're struggling," she said, adding that she lives with her mom who also works for McDonald's, earning $8.70 hourly.

"It would be nice to be able to save some money. We can't do that right now because we live paycheck to paycheck," Wright said.

Shortly after the protests ended, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who officially announced on Sunday that she is running for president in 2016, tweeted from her official account: "Every American deserves a fair shot at success. Fast food & child care workers shouldn't have to march in streets for living wages. - H."

The 236-city nationwide strike, said by organizers to be the largest of its kind, comes roughly two weeks after McDonald's announced that it would raise wages by $1 for employees at corporate-owned restaurants by July 1. The decision affects some 90,000 employees at about 10 percent of the fast food chain's locations nationwide. Most McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. are operated by franchises, whose owners can make their own decisions regarding employee wages and benefits.

Tax Day marked the eighth time Chicago fast food workers have walked off the job since 2012, when the fast food industry was first targeted by striking employees in New York City. Those with the Fight for $15 movement have been pushing for union recognition and a $15 minimum wage, which is a yearly salary of about $31,000 -- enough to cover workers' basic needs, according to organizers.

"I know what it means to live check by check and to struggle. I know what it means to make life decisions based on economic injustices," said Ovadhwah McGee, a single father living in the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood with his 14-year-old son.

McGee said he works roughly 60 hours per week as an in-home care worker and certified nursing assistant, but earns less than $15 an hour at both jobs.

"I want to make more and do more for my son and my family. I'm tired of just surviving," he said. "I believe $15 would be that little bit of piece of mind that I could live a little better. I'm proud to stand with others feeling the same oppression from the rich 1 percent."

Illinois' minimum wage, which is $8.25 an hour, provides a full-time worker with an annual salary of $17,160 before taxes. The federal hourly minimum wage, which hasn't been adjusted since 2009, is $7.25.

In December, the Chicago City Council approved a mayor-backed plan that will raise the city's minimum wage gradually to $13 an hour by 2019.

But Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), a member of the Chicago City Council's Progressive Reform Caucus who supported an ordinance to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 hourly, said that, although $13 is a step in the right direction, the but "fight is not over." Sawyer signed on as a co-sponsor of the mayor's $13 minimum wage ordinance.

"This fight is far too important, not just for you, but for your families, your neighborhoods and your communities," Sawyer said. "You have to have a living wage to survive."

Also standing in solidarity with the low-wage workers was Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the April 7 mayoral runoff election.

"I understand how important it is that working people make a living wage everywhere," Garcia said. "In order for working families to have a shot at having a decent life, in order to reduce inequality across Chicagoland, in order to have real community development, working families need a living wage and the Fight For $15 represents justice and economic justice for everyone."

Here's more from Garcia, Sawyer and Wednesday afternoon's protest:

In December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued 13 complaints involving 78 charges in 13 cities, including Chicago, alleging labor law violations against McDonald's USA and several of its franchisees.

The cases, which date as far back as November 2012, when fast food workers in New York participated in the first strike against the fast food industry, allege that McDonald's USA and some of its franchisees "violated the rights of employees working at McDonald's restaurants at various locations around the country by, among other things, making statements and taking actions against them for engaging in activities aimed at improving their wages and working conditions, including participating in nationwide fast food worker protests about their terms and conditions of employment during the past two years," according to the NLRB.

But protesters on Wednesday claimed that the struggles of living on less than $15 an hour extend far beyond the fast food industry.

"We are all hurting. I work three jobs and I still don't make ends meet," said Eugene Lim, of ONE Northside. "I work hard. I do good work ... So this is my question, why am I poor? I know I deserve more. We know we deserve more."


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