Ten Connecticut fast-food workers flocked to Chicago this weekend, where they joined thousands of other fast-food employees at a labor gathering to demand a $15-an-hour pay rate as well as the right to form a union.
During the two-day convention, which was held just four miles away from the McDonalds headquarters,1,200 fast-food workers from around the country engaged in leadership trainings, strategized about how to escalate the campaign and shared their experiences in their fight to raise the wage floor for the nation’s 4 million fast-food employees to $15 per hour.
“We talked a lot about civil disobedience,” Samuel Velez, a McDonalds employee from Hartford, said. “What we’re doing; fighting for our rights is really important. It was very good that a whole bunch of workers came together as one and spoke about what we’re going to do next, and that we got feedback about how we’re doing.”
The workers in attendance were joined by activists and elected officials from over 50 cities, including Rep Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, North Carolina NAACP President the Rev. William Barber II and President of the Service Employees International Union Mary Kay Henry, all of whom packed into a nearby suburb’s expo center to rally around their “$15 and a union” motto.
“A selfish few at the top are using their power to hold down wages, no matter how much that hurts families and communities across the country,” Henry said during her keynote speech.
The campaign, known as the “Fight for $15” campaign, is centered on the belief that fast-food workers are entitled to a larger portion of what The Statistics Portal defines as the fast food industry’s $200 billion dollar income.
“I fight for fifteen because I have a son, a family” Velez said. “I’ve been working at McDonalds for six months, and I haven’t been able to afford an apartment. I walk to work everyday. I work for a million dollar company — they can afford to pay fairly.”
Though the convention was the first time that fast-food workers across the country united under one roof to fight for a common cause, the Fight for $15 campaign has been in effect since November 2012, when New York City fast-food workers first walked off their jobs after demanding a higher pay rate. Since then, similar campaigns have held a multitude of daylong strikes outside of various fast-food chains, three of which occurred in Connecticut.
For the industry itself, the “Fight for $15” mentality has been at the forefront of several large-scale corporate meetings. According to McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, how to address the fast-food workers’ demands was a topic discussed at McDonalds’ annual shareholders meeting this past May.
“We respect everyone’s right to voice an opinion,” Barker Sa Shekhem said in a statement. “McDonald’s respects our employees’ right to voice their opinions and to protest lawfully and peacefully. If employees participate in these activities, they are welcomed back and scheduled to work their regular shifts. We value our employees’ well-being and the contributions they make to our restaurants, and thank them for what they do each and every day.”
Though Barker Sa Shekhem said that McDonalds restaurants “respects their employees right” to protest, the Fight for $15 campaign website suggests that such treatment is not always the norm for fast food employers. In the “Know Your Rights” section, the site lists several legal rights that fast-food workers employees have when it comes to protesting.
“They try to put pressure on a lot of workers when they’re working,” Velez said in regards to his workplace. “They don’t want us to fight for 15. They’ll cut hours, try to scare other employees away from the movement.”
Velez and others said that the attendees of the convention were committed to escalating the tactics discussed at the convention, and that they expect to see more labor gatherings in the future.