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Retail workers protest low wages, get inside Macy’s and Water Tower

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Updated: December 25, 2012 6:18AM



Startled shoppers looked up from the jewelry cases, kids pointed and anxious-looking security personnel whispered into their cell phones.

For a few brief minutes Friday morning, angry protest chants — and even a little shoving — interrupted the glittery, perfume-saturated shopping experience at Macy’s on State Street.

Fifty or so people took advantage of a large Black Friday audience to march through the store, protesting what they say are unfair wages for downtown retail and restaurant workers.

“We can’t survive on $8.25!” they chanted. At one point, an angry shopper who apparently felt he’d been shoved, pushed back and yelled, “Get out of the store!”

Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a newly formed group demanding a $15-an-hour wage, soon made their way out of the store and back out onto the street.

“We are basically here to let people know what’s been going on has been going on too long and it has to cease,” said Sartoria Briggs, 22, from Riverdale. “This is corporate greed where money goes all the way up to the top and never comes down.”

Briggs, who works as a beauty adviser at Macy’s on State Street, says she makes $10.50 an hour, plus a 3 percent commission.

“We have those extravagant windows and that extravagant tree. They take pride in their store and not in their employees,” she said.

The marchers’ ranks also included people who’d earlier stood outside area Wal-Mart stores, blasting the wages, benefits and treatment of employees of the world’s largest retailer. The efforts on Thursday and Friday seemed to do little to keep shoppers away though — the company said it was their best Black Friday ever.

A union-backed group called OUR Wal-Mart says it held an estimated 1,000 protests in 46 states. The exact number is unclear. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has refuted the estimate, saying the union has grossly exaggerated its figure and that the protests involved few of its own employees.

Small protests gathered outside Wal-Mart stores in the Chicago area, including in Hammond and Hobart, Ind., Joliet, Aurora and Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood.

For many weary downtown shoppers, Friday’s protest was just one more obstacle to navigate, one more noise to tune out — along with police sirens, street hawkers and the occasional sidewalk preacher.

Things got a little testy at lunchtime inside the packed Water Tower Place, where a handful of protesters sneaked inside and unfurled a banner from the fifth floor of the atrium. For those who had time to read it before a security guard ripped it down, the banner read: “$1.5 billion,” referring to the amount protesters say executives at top retail outlets and restaurants operating downtown made last year.

Outside Water Tower Place, the march swelled to about 200 drum-banging, banner-waving protesters, making it difficult for shoppers to pass.

For the most part, though, shoppers — and the police — seemed to take it all in stride.

Chey Lapish, 36, was with her friend, Brenda Brown, 46, both visiting from Ontario, Canada.

“It’s amusing because we don’t see this kind of thing at home,” Lapish said.

Brown found the Water Tower Place protest a bit irritating, but not something that would discourage her from returning to Chicago to shop.

“It’s the friendliest place ever — besides Canada,” Brown said.

Contributing: AP



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