Hundreds of employees from stores such as McDonald's Corp., Macy's Inc. and Victoria's Secret walked off the job today in Chicago for higher wages, three weeks after a similar strike by fast-food workers in New York.
The employees marched in the Chicago Loop and near the Magnificent Mile shopping area, calling for $15-an-hour pay, 82 percent more than the state's minimum wage, and the right to form a union without intimidation. The one-day strike was arranged by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a group of retail and food workers, according to a statement yesterday.
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"I'm living check by check," Esly Hernandez, a Dunkin' Donuts employee, said in a telephone interview. Hernandez, who said he makes minimum wage and has worked at Dunkin' for almost a year, was protesting outside a Subway store in the Loop. At least 200 workers participated in the strike, the group said.
"I'm not even able to save money because I have to pay the bills," said Hernandez, 24, who's trying to save money for his 4-year-old son. "You have to increase the low wage."
In February, President Barack Obama announced a plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25. He also proposed tying the wage to the cost of living. While the current federal minimum has been in effect since 2009, some states have mandated higher rates.
On April 4, about 400 restaurant workers in New York City walked off the job, demanding $15-an-hour pay and the right to unionize. In New York, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, compared with Illinois, where McDonald's is headquartered, which has a minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.
New York lawmakers last month passed a budget that includes raising the state's minimum wage to $9 an hour over three years.
There are more than 2.9 million food preparation and serving workers in the U.S., including those who work at fast- food restaurants, according to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May. The median wage for those workers is $8.78 an hour, or about $18,260 a year, the data shows.
McDonald's has about 14,100 domestic locations and is the world's largest restaurant chain by sales. The company, based in Oak Brook, employed about 440,000 workers worldwide at the end of last year, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
"Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs," Ofelia Casillas, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "The majority of McDonald's restaurants in Chicago and across the country are owned and operated by independent business men and women."
Macy's, the second-biggest U.S. department-store chain, is based in Cincinnati and has about 840 stores. As of Feb. 2, the company had 175,700 employees, of which about 10 percent were represented by a union, according to a regulatory filing.
Jim Sluzewski, a Macy's spokesman, declined to comment on the strike in an e-mail.
Victoria's Secret is owned by Columbus, Ohio-based L Brands Inc., which employed about 99,400 associates as of Feb. 2, the company said in a filing. Tammy Roberts Myers, an L Brands spokeswoman, didn't immediately comment on the strike.
Michelle King, a spokeswoman for Canton, Massachusetts- based Dunkin' Brands Group Inc., said in an e-mail that Dunkin' Donuts restaurants "are owned and operated by individual franchisees who are responsible for making their own business decisions such as hours of operation, employee wages and the benefits they offer their employees."
Employees from Sears Holdings Corp., the largest department store chain, which is based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, and employs 246,000 in the U.S., and Subway restaurants also joined in the Chicago strike.
"Sears has in place several programs that provide extra earnings opportunities for non-commission hourly associates," Howard Riefs, a spokesman for the retailer, said in an e-mail. "The company is committed to promoting hourly associates and frequently does so as another means of recognizing and rewarding hourly associates."
Riefs also said that "the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago communicated to us this morning that it is not looking for recognition or a labor contract."
Kevin Kane, a Subway spokesman, didn't immediately respond to a phone call and e-mail seeking comment.