CHICAGO — U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky ( D-IL ) was among 54 arrested at McDonald's headquarters Thursday as hundreds of striking cooks and cashiers flooded downtown Chicago demanding union rights in the $200 billion fast-food industry. The walkout in Chicago came as thousands of fast-food workers in 2018 battleground across the country went on strike calling for union rights one month before Election Day.
As striking workers converged outside McDonald's headquarters, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders sent a letter to McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook calling on the fast-food giant to follow Amazon's lead by heeding its workers' demands for $15 an hour and the right to a union. Sanders' letter quoted McDonald's worker Adriana Alvarez from Cicero, Ill., who read from the letter and spoke outside the company's headquarters Thursday.
"If Amazon can pay $15 an hour then companies like McDonald's making billions in profits can afford to pay $15 and respect our right to a union too," said Alvarez. "We're on strike today to demand the union that fast-food workers need. And I have a message for any politicians listening: stand with us in our fight for union rights. Because on Election Day, we're showing up to the polls and casting our votes for elect leaders who support working people."
Candidates and elected leaders also vowed their support for cooks and cashiers striking in battleground states across the country including Florida, Georgia, California and Connecticut, stressing the importance of growing unions and making it easier for workers to organize.
"Some politicians will do whatever it takes to block workers from coming together in a union," said Schakowsky. "That's unacceptable, and it's a big reason why paychecks across the country are flat while corporate profits are fatter than ever. I'm proud to support workers in the Fight for $15 who are striking and protesting all across the country today for union rights. Unions are the solution to unrigging the economy and strengthening communities here in Illinois and nationwide."
Behind a giant banner reading "Unions for All," nearly 1,000 fast-food and other service workers along the community leaders and politicians blocked the entrance to McDonald's downtown headquarters Thursday afternoon. Dozens of workers and Schakowsky were taken into custody along with the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People's Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival; Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union; Illinois state Assembly members Kelly Cassidy, Will Guzzardi; and Chicago Aldermen Susan Sadlowski Garza, Rick Munoz, Deb Mell, Carlos Rosa and John Arena.
Following today's strike, workers in the Fight for $15 alongside union members across the country will head from the strike lines into their communities to lead 2018 election canvasses in swing states — including Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, California, Florida, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio — where there are key races ahead of the November election.
"Uplifting the poor, demanding union rights and fighting for a living wage are key to the moral and political battle of the Poor People's Campaign," said the Rev. Dr. Barber II. "That's why we're taking to the streets today and ballot boxes in November. Non-violent civil disobedience in the name of what is just isn't a new tactic, rather, it is a tradition in how we've accomplished change in this nation."
As fast-food cooks and cashiers went on strike Thursday, workers from across the service economy joined the uprising, including in key 2018 battlegrounds. Higher education workers at Miami Dade College — Florida's largest college — and child care workers across California rallied Thursday, while hospital workers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center walked off the job to protest efforts by powerful employers to undercut unions.
McDonald's workers in the U.K. also walked off the job Thursday, calling for 10 pounds an hour, union rights and an end to abusive "youth rates." The strike was the third and largest walkout in the past year by U.K. McDonald's workers, who were inspired by U.S. fast-food workers in the Fight for $15. Cooks and cashiers in the U.K. were joined by fast-food workers and fast-food unions from 16 countries.
The strikes and canvasses follow a blitz of town halls and roundtable meetings workers in the Fight for $15 have held in 17 cities this year with members of Congress and state and local elected leaders. The meetings were focused on the need for lawmakers to make it easier for workers to organize in unions.
As the election nears, support for unions is hitting record levels across the country. A survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released in June found that Americans' interest in joining unions is at a four-decade high, with nearly half ( 48 percent ) of all nonunion workers in the U.S. saying they would join a union if they could.
A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute shows the decline in union membership over the past few decades has helped keep wages stagnant. Another study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that higher rates of unionization led to higher wages not just for union members, but for all workers.
Earlier this year, public school teachers launched a wave of strikes hitting red states spanning West Virginia to Oklahoma to Arizona and beyond to protest years of pay cuts and attacks by politicians against their union. And in August, working people in Missouri voted by an overwhelming 2-1 margin to repeal the state's right-to-work law.
A growing number of candidates are putting unions at the center of their campaigns this year — and in state after state, that support has resonated with working families, including Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, David Garcia in Arizona, and Richard Ojeda in West Virginia.