Students, adjunct professors rally for higher wages, snarl traffic – Chicago Tribune
Labor organizers took their push for a minimum wage of $15 an hour to the University of Illinois at Chicago campus Wednesday, calling for higher wages for instructors and student workers.
The Fight for $15 campaign is rallying to unionize an estimated 8,000 part-time professors in the Chicago area, aiming to expand its initial focus on fast-food workers at chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King, to child care, janitors and other service-sector employees.
The demonstration in the University Village neighborhood Wednesday afternoon snarled rush hour traffic as hundreds of demonstrators spanning about four city blocks moved to the Loop.
Organizers said demonstrations were planned for more than 230 U.S. cities and college campuses, as well as dozens of cities overseas.
“We can’t survive on $8.25,” said Jeff Uehlinger, a junior at UIC studying urban planning, referring to the state’s minimum hourly wage. He is 22.
Victor Guzman, 23, said he is a student at Harold Washington College and a McDonald’s worker. He makes $8.80 per hour but said that figure is not enough. He wants to make $15 per hour.
UIC students delivered a petition to the chancellor’s office, seeking a minimum of $15 per hour for all workers on campus, including students.
“We demand an end to frivolous spending of our tuition dollars, and a living wage,” the petition read in part.
Thomas Hardy, executive director of university relations, said the University of Illinois system is in the midst of an $18 million cut in state support to its 2015 fiscal year appropriation and is faced with a proposed 31.5 percent, or $209 million, reduction to its appropriation for fiscal 2016.
“A decision on raising the minimum wage can’t be made responsibly with significant budget issues still unresolved,” Hardy said.
Graduate student Kevin Ovidier of Chicago said he’d like to see adjunct professors paid more. Low pay, he said, affects the quality of instruction.
“This explains the distressing quality of education, said Ovidier, 25. “When (adjuncts) are overworked and underpaid, they can’t concentrate on their jobs.”
Earlier on Wednesday, protesters gathered outside of a McDonald’s restaurant.
“People all over the country are supporting us,” Douglas Hunter, a McDonald’s worker, said outside a McDonald’s at Chicago and Laramie avenues. “We will win together.”
Demonstrators carried signs reading, “Poverty jobs hold Chicago back” and “Lucha por $15,” Spanish for “Fight for $15.”
Maxx Boykin, lead organizer of Black Youth Project 100, said racial justice is economic justice.
“I have family and friends who have struggled with low wage jobs,” he said.
Protesters looped once around the drive-thru of the McDonald’s, but mostly stayed on the sidewalk holding signs and chanting.
The protests are a continuation of a campaign that began in late 2012, and has been led by
the Service Employees International Union.
A man who said he works at Brink’s Co. said some drivers and messengers in Chicago walked off the job to join the protests. Raises and overtime pay are their main complaints, he said.
“This is not just a McDonald’s problem,” said Alex Alvarez. “It’s a problem nationwide.”
Brink’s couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Kendall Fells, organizing director for Fight for $15, said McDonald’s remains a focus of the protests and that the company’s recently announced pay bump shows fast-food workers already have a de facto union.
“It shows the workers are winning,” he said.
McDonald’s earlier this month said it would raise its starting salary to $1 above the local minimum wage, and give workers the ability to accrue paid time off. But the move only applies to workers at company-owned stores, which account for about 10 percent of more than 14,300 locations.
That means McDonald’s is digging in its heels over a central issue for labor organizers: Whether it has the power to set wages at franchised restaurants.
McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s say they don’t control the employment decisions at franchised restaurants. The SEIU is working to change that and hold McDonald’s responsible for labor conditions at franchised restaurants in multiple ways, including lawsuits.
In an emailed statement, McDonald’s said it respects the right to “peacefully protest” and that its restaurants will remain open Wednesday. In the past, it said only about 10 to 15 McDonald’s workers out of about 800,000 have participated.
Passers-by said they supported the protesters. Their demands aren’t unreasonable, given the income disparities between the top brass and the workers, one man said.
“To a certain extent, people will have second thoughts about eating at McDonald’s,” Kevin Carter said.
The Associated Press contributed.
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