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Second Day Of Protests Highlights A Fight For Quality Of Life

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 2, 2013 5:40PM

The biggest demand of the Fight For 15 movement might be an increase to the minimum wage, it isn't the only demand the coalition of low-wage retail and service workers have. The fight to raise the wage isn’t only about just walking home with more money in their pockets, said many demonstrators, it’s about what better wages do for their quality of life.

“I don’t see my kids until Friday night,” said one striking employee in front of Walgreens on State Street. “I don’t just work for Walgreens, I work for Chik-Fil-A as well. I work 5:30 in the morning until 1 at Chick-Fil-A, then I come to Walgreens and work 1 - 9. I want to be able to come home and take care of my kids off of one day’s work, one 8-hour shift.”

The workers and their supporters who went on strike Wednesday and Thursday as part of a two day long protest at more than two dozen retail locations spent yesterday showing a raise in the wage is about improving the quality of life for their families and co-workers as well as dignity. Robert Wilson, Jr., a McDonald’s worker at Navy Pier, said that working with the broad coalition of labor groups helped improve his standing at his job:

“My seven years working at McDonald’s at Navy wasn’t until I became involved in this organization, Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, that I finally got a promotion."

Wilson said that he only received a 25 cent raise and he still worked extremely long hours, which he called unfair, but WOCC and other organizations gave him the courage to keep speaking out. “Ever since that accomplishment and the support of this organization backing me up, it gave me the courage to do what I have to do and stand for what I deserve,” he said at a final rally groups had at Navy Pier, where some demonstrators unfurled a banner reading “Fight For 15” off the Ferris wheel.

Critics say an increase to the minimum wage would make businesses suffer, could increase unemployment and raise the cost of consumer prices. Recent data suggests neither however, might happen. A 2010 study by Arindrajit Dube, an Assistant Professor of Economics at University of Massachusetts suggested higher wages decreased worker turnover, which is extraordinarily high in retail and other service industry jobs. While data suggesting that an increase in the wage would only raise the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents has flaws, Forbes contributor Tim Worstall points out that production costs aren’t what raises prices, competition does. A raise in the wage across the board would keep the playing field level in regards to cost.

Back on the picket line, protesters also highlighted unfair labor practices and working conditions. Krista, an employee at Nordstrom's, said that management refused to protect its workers and adjust its security policies. She said she had been attacked on the job once by a customer and harassed on other occasions. “The other week, we were being harassed by a customer and they told us it was against policy if they were a premium customer to kick them out unless they physically assault someone,” she stated.

Yesterday’s protests were also about giving retail employees, who typically have little to no bargaining power with their employers, a sense of empowerment. After demonstrators spent about 15 minutes chanting “Come on out, we’ve got your back” in front of Walgreen's, Teresa Anaya, a 23-year-old employee, walked out the doors to cheers and hugs from co-workers and supporters. Within seconds, the crowd of nearly 400 people began chanting “who’s go the power? we’ve got the power.”

Whether or not a raise in the wage on a state or federal level will happen anytime soon remains up in the air, but the movement, which has spread to several states and cities across the country, continues to grow, and workers and their supporters say they will continue to fight. On the picket line in front of Sears on State Street, Rory Jackson, a worker in the electronics department, said:

“The movement has definitely grown, we’re going across the country with this. We are standing strong and tall for this fight for a living wage, better working conditions and better living conditions.”