Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=211613
Story Retrieval Date: 11/28/2014 11:02:17 PM CST

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John V. Santore/MEDILL

A new union in Chicago is calling for a $15 minimum wage.


Local union calls for $15 hourly wage while national campaign targets Walmart

Nov 27, 2012


While boistrous protests targeted Chicago-area Walmarts Friday, a new local union formed in mid-November coordinated a second wave of actions calling for an increase in minimum wage to $15 per hour, well beyond a gradual statewide increase to $10.55 that may be approved next year. 

The activities were part of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago's "Fight for 15" campaign. The Committee says it already includes employees at more than 100 businesses. After supporting the Walmart rallies, Committee members marched down Michigan Avenue and rallied both outside and inside Water Tower Place.

Satoria Briggs, a Macy’s employee and Committee activist, said that when she started at the retailer last July, she worked 40 hours a week for about $400 in pay.

“That’s really hard for me, because I’m paying student loans off, I have other things I have to pay off, I just moved to Chicago,” she said. 

Another Committee member who asked to be identified only as Nash said he has never made more than $11.91 in 16 years of retail and restaurant work around the country. He works at Jamba Juice.

“Please know, where you spend your money at and you pay an honest dollar to get your products, these people that are working there -- to bring that service or product to you -- are nowhere near making an honest living wage,” he said.

Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of local labor groups, helped the Committee coordinate Friday’s activities. 

Elizabeth Parisian, a policy analyst with the coalition, said she expects reports to be released and further actions to take place in support of the Fight for 15 campaign, but that the course of future events is in the hands of the Committee's leaders.

“I think the workers definitely want to use the holiday shopping season to deliver their message,” she said.

Parisian dismissed a statement released Friday by David Tovar, Walmart's vice president of corporate communications, minimizing the protests’ significance.

“These employers recognize that they are not paying their employees what they are worth, what they deserve to earn, and certainly not enough to even get by,” she said. “Obviously they’re going to come out with strongly worded statements about how they’re the good guys and everything’s fine.”

According to Walmart, the average hourly full-time employee at the company makes $12.57 per hour. The company also said Friday was the most successful Black Friday in company history.

Earlier in the day, OUR Walmart, an independent group operating in conjunction with established unions, staged protests at multiple Walmart locations in Chicago. According to organizers, at least 40 store employees were involved. The retailer operates six locations in the city. Planned expansions have stoked controversy, with critics questioning the chain’s impact on wages and local economic conditions.

“We’re looking for better pay, stop the retaliation when workers try to come together, better benefits,” said Rosetta Brown, a long-time Walmart employee who took Friday off so she could attend the protests. “We’re just asking for respect.”