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Retail, fast-food workers walk off jobs, demand higher wages

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Updated: April 24, 2013 5:54PM

Hundreds of fast-food and retail workers walked off their jobs Wednesday morning as part of a one-day strike, protesting for higher wages and the right to unionize.

Starting at Union Station early Wednesday, about 50 protesters from the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago joined other labor and community organizations outside downtown fast-food and retail outlets. Picketed businesses include McDonald’s, Subway, Macy’s, Sears, Nordstrom Rack and Victoria’s Secret.

By 9:15, protesters clad in red ponchos had made their way to State Street, chanting in front of Nordstrom Rack and Sears and blocking the Macy’s doors by 10 a.m.

Shani Smith, WOCC’s organizational spokesperson, said most retail and fast-food workers earn Illinois’ minimum wage of $8.25 or “just a few cents above it.”

“They want to be able to make $15 an hour, something [so] that they can at least not have to worry about which bill do I pay. Do I pay for transportation or food?” Smith, 38, said. “Our workers should not have to work a full day and then end up having to stand in a line in the aid offices as well.”

Sears employee Chardé Nabors earns $9 an hour for 20 hours a week, and although the South Shore single mom asked the store for more hours, she said a part-time job was all they could give her.

“Until I can find better, I’m going to stand here and fight,” Nabors, 21, said. “I have to depend on food stamps for them just to eat. I can’t afford a $650 rent, but I’m making it and I’m standing here and I’m going to fight and continue to fight. They need a better education and a better living.”

Although most stores showed no sign of a slowdown because of the strike, Sally Beauty Supply, 24 E. Madison, delayed opening by two hours when the employee who was supposed to open the store at 8:30 a.m. walked off the job. Store manager Alma Nujkanovic said she wasn’t aware the strike was going on until she came to work at 10:30 a.m. to find the store empty and a note from WOCC slipped underneath the door.

Inside Macy’s State Street flagship, shopper Rena Richmond was unaware of the chanting crowd outside Wednesday morning. Still, she expressed her support for the strikers.

“As prices go up, I think the wages should too. ...” Richmond, 57, said. “Macy’s has been around a long time. They should be doing better financially to be paying their workers better.”

A Macy’s spokesperson declined to comment.

McDonald’s employee Victor Guzman, 21, said he doesn’t understand why some big corporations pay their workers so little.

“I work hard in the kitchen serving food, and they pay me the minimum wage, ...” said Guzman, of Little Village. “Why they make a lot of money and they can’t pay us more?”

McDonald’s USA said in a statement: “Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs. ... Employees who want to go from crew to management can take advantage of a variety of training and professional development opportunities.”

Nordstrom Rack employee Silvia Ortiz, 26, said the amount of revenue the fast-food and retail employees generate for the city is reason enough for a raise.

“We definitely deserve a raise. We bring the money,” the Brighton Park resident said.

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