Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday March 31st, 2015, 2:57pm

Chicago's Fight For $15 Campaign To Expand Beyond Fast Food Workers (VIDEO)

Fast food workers with the Fight for $15 campaign are set to strike on April 15 in 200 U.S. cities, including Chicago, as part of a national day of action for higher wages and union recognition.

They will be joined on the picket lines by a growing number of low-wage workers and allies as the movement for better pay and working conditions continues to expand to industries beyond fast food. Chicago adjunct professors, college students, cab drivers, child care workers and leaders with the "Black Lives Matter" movement are among those who will be protesting with fast food employees on April 15, organizers said during a Tuesday news conference.

The April 15 strikes and protests across Chicago will culminate with a large rally near the University of Illinois at Chicago's student center in the late afternoon, workers said. 

April 15 will mark 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 before the Fight for $15 campaign gained traction across the country. 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.

"This thing is growing so fast," Chicago McDonald's worker Douglas Hunter said of the Fight for $15. "Two years ago, when this movement started out, all we wanted was $15 an hour and the right to form a union ... The Fight for $15 is grown up now. We're now a social justice movement."

"We're saying that America, you can do better," he added. "Together we will win." 

Among the newest Fight for $15 members is Matt Hoffman, an adjunct professor of sociology at Loyola University Chicago. Hoffman is one of a number of adjunct professors calling for better working conditions, benefits and $15,000 per course as part of the SEIU's* "Faculty Forward" campaign.

The demand of $15,000 per course, including benefits, "puts us more on par with full-time faculty," said Hoffman, who currently earns $4,500 per class at Loyola University Chicago and does not receive employer-provided health benefits.

Hoffman teaches Sociology 101 and has 47 students.

"If you were to calculate how much (students) pay per (course) credit and how much I receive, it's less than 5 percent of what they all pay as 47 students," he said.

Another Chicago adjunct professor set to rally April 15 is Joy Ellison, who teaches in the peace studies department at DePaul University. Ellison said she earns approximately $4,000 per course and makes $19,000 annually as a DePaul University adjunct professor. 

Ellison noted that DePaul University President, the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, "made $800,000 last year, making him one of the highest-paid priests at a Catholic college in the country."

"We also are paying our basketball coach $2 million," she said, pointing out that both she and Hoffman teach at Catholic colleges with social justice missions. "The fact is that the people who actually teach students aren't making a living wage, and our ability to teach our students suffers for that."

Hoffman said "there's definitely interest" among Loyola University Chicago adjunct professors to unionize.

"We haven't gotten that far," he acknowledged. "We're just starting" to have discussions about unionization efforts.

There is also an interest among adjunct DePaul University professors to unionize, Ellison said.

Joining the Fight for $15 movement and calling for $15,000 per course "is the beginning of that push" to unionize, she said.

Here's more from Hoffman and Hunter about the upcoming Fight for $15 strike:

Also set to participate in the Chicago Fight for $15 protests next month are members of the Black Youth Project 100, a national organization of young black activists aged 18 to 35.

"For us, the Fight for $15 is also a fight for our lives," said Charlene Carruthers, BYP 100's national coordinator. "When we say 'black lives matter,' that includes black workers. Black workers' lives matter ... Nearly 50 percent of all fast food workers here in Chicago are black Chicagoans."

When asked what victories fast food workers have claimed since beginning their Fight for $15 campaign in Chicago, Hunter said, "We're getting talked to differently on our jobs."

"We're getting treated with respect and dignity on our jobs, and that's a direct result of the actions that we're taking out on here on the streets," he said.

Hunter did not cite the recently-approved $13 minimum wage hike in Chicago as a victory. Under the mayor-backed ordinance approved by the Chicago City Council in December, the city's hourly minimum wage will gradually rise to $13 by 2019.

"The $13 an hour in (2019) we feel is not enough," Hunter said. "Prices are constantly going up. Our rent is going up ever year. Our food costs are going up every year, and we're asked to wait until 2019 to get to $13 an hour ... This is not acceptable.

"We believe that we need $15, and we need it now," he stressed.

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.


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