Retail, Fast-Food Workers Walk Out In Chicago

Hundreds of Chicago retail and fast-food employees walked off their jobs and marched in downtown Chicago on Wednesday (April 24), calling for a $15-per-hour wage and the right to form a union, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The walkout, which followed a similar action in New York City three weeks ago, picketed McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Subway, Dunkin' Donuts (NASDAQ:DNKN), Macy's (NYSE:M), Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD), Nordstrom Rack (NYSE:JWN) and Victoria's Secret (NYSE:LTD) stores, and was organized by a group called the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which is not a union.

There have been sporadic efforts to unionize fast-food workers over the past few decades, but without much success, in part because of high turnover in those jobs.

The walkout and picketing reportedly had little effect on the chains involved. A McDonald's spokeswoman said it was "business as usual" for the chain's stores in the Loop. She also said she wasn't aware of any McDonald's employees being fired for participating. Most of the other chains involved declined to comment.

It's easy to dismiss a one-day walkout by a few hundred employees, but this one may be worth thinking about because of its sponsorship and its focus. The sponsoring organization isn't a union, and unionization isn't the walkout's primary concern—that's wages. The Illinois minimum wage is $8.25. The federal minimum wage peaked in 1968 at what, in 2013 dollars, would be $10.70. The protesters' target is $15. Those are tough numbers, given that labor remains such a large chunk of retailers' costs.

But that seems to be these protesters' only issue. Conventional unions might focus on legislative action or annual-meeting pressure, but this group is more ad hoc and thus more unpredictable. And while conventional union organizing has dropped off, a single-focus effort might gain more support—and be more disruptive next time.

For more:

- See this Chicago Tribune story
- See this Chicago Sun-Times story
- See this Bloomberg story

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