Local low-wage worker activists in Chicago for massive protest at McDonalds HQ

click to enlarge Demonstrators blocking a suburban Chicago street Wednesday. - Kelly Benjamin
Kelly Benjamin
Demonstrators blocking a suburban Chicago street Wednesday.

Believe it or not, people eat at McDonald's. 

A lot of them, actually.

In order to meet demand for the company's product, McDonald's, which is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill., has to hire people to prepare "food" featured on its menu and collect currency from customers, who then apparently consume it.

The company earns billions of dollars a year doing what it does, and the executives that call the shots are all very rich. But the people whom the company pays to stand in hot kitchens flipping burgers and sweeping up French fry particles make a minuscule fraction of what the executives make. In Florida, for example, someone who starts as a cashier or burger flipper can expect to make $8.05 an hour (though the wages in most franchises are set by the franchisee).

It's why hundreds of people are in Oak Brook this week, a very, very affluent Chicago suburb, urging the mega corporation to grant its workers a $15-an-hour minimum wage as well as greater ability to unionize. This week marks the company's annual shareholder meeting, and the protestors aim to demonstrate their struggles to the company's execs and investors.

The company already plans to offer starting wages that are at least a dollar above the minimum wage in a store's respective state.

 “I'm working right now with some people that are really hard workers," said Tina McElroy, who works at a Tampa Bay area McDonald's store and is taking part of this week's demonstrations. "They're working for $8.05 an hour and it's, like, the hardest job I've ever had." 

And conditions aren't pleasant.

“We're working in a very tiny space," McElroy said. "We're all piled on top of each other. We're constantly moving. We're picking up things, sweeping and mopping. We're just moving nonstop.”

Eight bucks an hour. To put that into perspective for those who have never struggled, that would mean a basic manicure costs three hours of work (after taxes). If you want shellac, it'd cost you about four and a half hours. Want to do eighteen holes at one of the nicer courses in the area? Forget about it.

Activist and McDonald's employee Bleu Rainer demonstrates near the company's international headquarters. - Kelly Benjamin
Kelly Benjamin
Activist and McDonald's employee Bleu Rainer demonstrates near the company's international headquarters.
Needless to say, people who are trying to support themselves on fast food pay probably don't get many manicures or golf at non-municipal courses, and many can't afford to meet their basic needs without government assistance of some kind.

There's the argument that most people who work at McDonald's are students and others who aren't relying on that income stream as a vital means of scraping by. Bleu Rainer, another employee of a Tampa Bay area franchise who's demonstrating in Oak Brook, said that is very much not the case.

“I don't work with any high school students at my McDonald's," he said. "These are all parents, these are all people that are all of the age that they have to depend on government assistance to do the things of everyday life. We're not high school students.”

Rainer, a Tampa resident, is 26. He said there were few job options for him once he graduated high school.

“We come out of high school, we're all young adults at that moment," he said. "Some of the first jobs that are available are fast food jobs. We can't specifically walk into an office that will pay us, you know $23, $26-7. Fast food is the only job that's left, so we take fast food jobs.”

Rainey, McElroy and others bused up to the Chicago area Tuesday, and are yesterday and today protesting at the McDonald's HQ with more than a dozen other McDonald's employees from Florida and hundreds from across the country as part of the Fight for $15 movement. Organizers said they expect 2,000 people to show up when all is said and done.

“It's time," Rainey said. "It's time for them to do the right thing and do right by their employees. It's time to choose people and the economy over these investors and shareholders. It's us, the people, that are keeping this big, $35 billion company.”


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