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400 area retail, fast-food workers demand $15-an-hour minimum wage

Retail fast-food workers participate nationwide strike demanding higher minimum wage $15 per hour. | Meenakshi Dalal~Sun Times

Retail and fast-food workers participate in a nationwide strike demanding a higher minimum wage of $15 per hour. | Meenakshi Dalal~Sun Times

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Updated: September 3, 2013 7:40AM

About 400 area retail and fast-food workers, together with colleagues nationally, participated in a strike Thursday to demand raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“If not $15, then something. I mean give us something. I work 36 hours a week and barely make enough to pay my rent, gas bill, light bill. It gets to the point where I barely have enough for lunch sometimes,” said Angel Richardson, 21, who works at McDonald’s. “I’m five months pregnant, what am I going to do in four months? I hope something changes.”

The minimum wage is $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in Illinois. Working 40 hours a week, a minimum wage earner in this state would make $17,160 a year.

Workers in other cities, including New York, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit, also held one-day strikes this week. It is unclear how many workers participated in other strikes.

This was the second day of one-day strikes in Chicago. On Wednesday, a group of different workers demonstrated outside the Whole Foods in Lake View and McDonald’s locations in Albany Park and Brighton Park.

In a march kicking off at 6:45 a.m. Thursday protesters made their way downtown on State Street as workers handed out fliers; held up signs; got support from honking drivers, and chanted different phrases such as, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these poverty wages have got to go!”

They also called for a “livable wage.”

Just before noon, protesters stopped in front of the Walgreens on the corner of Randolph and State streets. Demonstrators urged employees out of the store and told their stories through a megaphone.

Walgreens declined to comment.

Protesters also said they want the demonstration to deliver more results than one on April 24.

But some Whole Foods workers, whose pay starts at $10 an hour, said they expect to see concrete results from the protests because their employer responded to the one in April.

“After the last demonstration, they gave us two paid 15-minute breaks. Before, we had one. . . . They renovated our break room and they put our attendance policy under review,” said Whole Foods employee Matthew Camp, 32. “After this protest, yeah, we’re at least expecting to hear back about the attendance policy.”

A Whole Foods representative pointed out that grocery store pays more than minimum wage and “supports the rights of all workers, union and non-union.”

McDonald’s referred the Sun-Times to the National Restaurant Association for comment, saying that the “protests occurring are industry related.”

Scott DeFife, of the association, said: “Restaurants operate on very thin profit margins. Significant additional labor costs can negatively impact a restaurant’s ability to hire or maintain jobs.”

He added, “The cost of living varies greatly nationwide, while current proposals aimed at doubling the minimum wage would have a significant effect on the private sector’s ability to create jobs, especially those typically filled by first-time workers and teens.”

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