Fast food, health care work­ers march, call for higher pay, pro­tec­tive gear

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY ELVIA MALAGÓN, STAFF RE­PORTER emalagón@sun­times.com | @Elvi­aMalagon Elvia Malagón’s re­port­ing on so­cial jus­tice and in­come in­equal­ity is made pos­si­ble by a grant from the Chicago Com­mu­nity Trust.

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.

ASH­LEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

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.

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