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Coalition Protests Unfair Labor Practices, Calls For Increased Wages

By aaroncynic in News on Jul 26, 2013 9:30PM

A coalition of local labor organizations and low wage workers took part in a national day of action Wednesday afternoon calling out unfair labor practices and demanding an increase to the minimum wage. More than 200 protesters took to the streets first on the city’s west side at Little Village Car Wash on Cermak, fighting for an opportunity for the workers to unionize and calling on the car wash to pay employees the minimum wage and overtime. Holding a large sign which read “I will bring my car here when little village carwash has a union,” two members of Arise Chicago collected signatures from supporters picketing on the sidewalk, pledging to patrionize the business if worker demands were met. “Right now Little Village Car Wash workers, they’re not even making the minimum wage,” said Antonio, a member of Arise. “They’re making $0 an hour, just surviving on tips.”

Demonstrators soon departed from the front of the car wash and headed across the street to Walmart, where they attempted to enter the store and hand out flyers calling for Walmart to better its business practices. After security barred the demonstrators from entering the building, several former Walmart workers spoke out while others formed a picket line in the parking lot.

“I worked for Walmart Store 5781 in Chatham for nearly two years. Because of Walmart’s low wages, I was not able to support me or my son. There were many times where I had to decide whether to pay my bills as far as rent, or buy groceries to buy food for my son,” said Tyrone Robinson, a former Walmart employee. Robinson said he was fired from the store in Chatham after working with other employees to unionize and fight for better wages with the help of the group OUR Walmart. “As the largest private employer in the world, Walmart can afford to do better for its associates and the community,” Robinson added.

In the Walmart parking lot, the coalition of groups which included members of Action Now, Jobs With Justice, Stand Up Chicago, SEIU and more boarded busses and headed to the Capital Grille downtown. Alfredo, a former dishwasher from the Capital Grille told riders on the bus why he was planning to picket that afternoon.

“I was a dishwasher at Capital Grille for over a year. Like my friends from Our Walmart, I also gave my opinion. I was discriminated at the end I organized my coworkers and I was fired. My salary was low and they robbed my wages. This is a company that is really big and their salaries aren’t low.”

Alfredo was speaking of Darden, the restaurant operator which owns the Capital Grille along with such chains as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. The chain has spent millions to lobby against increasing a minimum wage. A small group entered the restaurant in the hopes of speaking with management about Darden’s lobbying efforts. A representative from the company who refused to identify himself told protesters their efforts were “hurting his team.” After leaving the lobby peacefully, a demonstrator with the Chicago Workers Collaborative asked “If he’s so focused on his team, why can’t he commit to supporting a raise in the federal minimum wage?”

The coalition of groups is calling for raises to both federal and state minimum wages. The federal wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for four years, while the minimum wage in Illinois is one dollar an hour higher. According to statistics from the groups, if minimum wage kept up with inflation, it would be $10.71 an hour. This puts working families deep in the red, they charge. According to a “Family Budget Calculator” release by the Economic Policy Institute, even small minimum wage earning families - a single parent with one child - face more than $30,000 a year in debt trying to make ends meet. Shani Smith, a spokesperson for Stand Up Chicago, said “We need our elected officials and our big employers to take action now to raise wages, raise up Chicago and Illinois, and raise up America.”