Fast food, health care workers march, call for higher pay, protective gear
For Ash Girtley, the statements corporations made in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the weeks after George Floyd’s death weren’t enough for Black workers like herself, who have been on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic for months.
“Show us that your front-line workers’ lives matter,” said Girtley, who works as a manager at Peet’s Coffee. “Most people who work in fast food restaurants are Black or Brown. And, let’s be honest, they have been working this whole pandemic. So for you to sit up here and tell me that my life matters, but you don’t want to pay me like my life matters or protect me or give me the proper protective gear I need, you can’t say my life matters.”
Girtley, 29, of South Shore, was among the front-line workers who marched Monday through the Loop, part of a nationwide labor action by workers who want to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and to call for better pay. Workers across the country were expected to walk off their jobs Monday for 8 minutes and 46 seconds to remember victims of police violence such as Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
In Chicago, a group of workers, trailed by a caravan of cars, marched through the Loop chanting, “Black Lives Matter” and “The people united will never be defeated.” Workers carried banners stating, “Black & Brown Unite and Strike!” and many wore “Black Lives Matter” face masks.
The crowd marched for about a half-mile from the Thompson Center to a McDonald’s near the intersection of Adams and Wells streets.
Demond Echols, 32, of suburban Robbins, told the crowd that he believed a union was the way to gain better wages and respect for Black workers like himself. He works as a shift manager at a KFC in Chicago, where he makes $15 an hour. He supports his four children on his wages.
“Today I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m fighting for the next generation,” Echols said. “I’m fighting for my kids, so that one day, if they work in fast food, they won’t have to go through what we go through. I’m fighting so my kids don’t have to.”
Ieshia Townsend, who works at a McDonald’s on the South Side, said she’s scared to go home from work, fearing she might contract COVID-19 and get her children sick. She and other workers went on strike earlier this year to ensure they had masks and gloves on the job.
“McDonald’s, if you really care about your Black and Brown workers, come out here and strike with us,” Townsend yelled outside of the McDonald’s in the Loop.
Like Townsend, Girtley said she is also worried about contracting COVID-19 on her job. She lives with her mother and worries about infecting her with the coronavirus.
Gregory Kelley, the president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, told the crowd that the way to move forward and improve conditions for Black workers was to work together. The group frequently chanted, “Strike, strike, strike, organizing is a right.”
The minimum wage recently rose to $14 an hour in Chicago, and another $1-an-hour bump is planned to $15 in 2021. But workers such as Townsend previously said it still wouldn’t be enough to provide financial stability. In Illinois, the minimum wage is $10 an hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
Chicago fast food workers and their supporters march through the Loop on Monday after a rally at the Thompson Center to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and to call for higher wages.