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Chicago fast-food, retail workers join in nationwide protest over wages

Updated: January 7, 2014 6:25AM



A nose-numbing cold greeted about 200 striking fast-food and retail workers downtown Thursday, as they protested wages so low they say they often need public assistance to make ends meet.

Clustered around a giant, bright green “Grinch,” the protesters — part of a “100-city strike wave”— are demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation.

“Chicago is a union town!” they chanted outside Snarf’s Sandwiches, 600 W. Chicago, one of several stops during a planned daylong demonstration in the city.

The group was expected to include workers from McDonald’s, Subway, CVS Pharmacy, Sears — among other companies.

“I have no problem making wages that are appropriate to my work, but it’s impossible to live on the wages we make,” explained Kait Ziegler, an actor and freelance writer who also works part-time at Snarf’s, making $9.50 an hour.

Ziegler, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Andersonville, added: “Certain people seem so upset that we’re asking for more because I suppose that service workers, to some people, should stay at the very bottom.”

But Scott DeFife, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association, said in a prepared statement that the protesters are part of “a coordinated PR campaign engineered by national labor groups where the vast majority of participants are activists and paid demonstrators.”

The protesters’ demands aren’t good for the economy, DeFife said.

“The restaurant industry has been one of the few industries that continued to create jobs during the recession and economic recovery, offering opportunities to hundreds of thousands of new workers over the past couple of years,” he said. “Dramatic increases in a starting wage such as those called for in these rallies will challenge that job growth history, increase prices for restaurant meals, especially in the value segments and lead to fewer jobs created.”

The protesters say that the Chicago area is home to about 275,000 low-wage fast food and retail workers. They cite studies that say a single-parent supporting one child would need at least $21 an hour to survive living in the city.

Similar strikes were planned for Thursday in Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Denver, among other cities. The “Fight for 15” campaign started last year and spread nationally after 200 low-wage workers went on strike in New York.

A representative from Snarf’s could not immediately be reached for comment.

Email: sesposito@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slesposito



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