Interviews and photos by Shruti Sharma
On May 20, outside the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, several thousand people came together in the escalating campaign of our times, Fight for $15. Launched two years ago, the nationwide campaign seeks to increase base wages to $15 an hour, including the right for fast food workers to form a union.
They’re also fighting for respect on the job. Slogans such as, “We are the workers, mighty mighty workers,” and “We can’t survive on $8.25,” reverberated as the crowd marched by the headquarters of the nation’s largest fast-food company.
CCH brought 75 people to the May protest. Three of the workers and students who joined us shared their stories on why the Fight for $15 is important to them.
Emiliano Vera, 21, Northwestern University junior majoring in Social Policy and Chinese Studies
“I have been involved in the Fight for $15 campaign for the last year. My whole family are low-wage workers. My childhood was very difficult and it was even more difficult for my mom, who did two to three jobs all the time. My mom would take me with her to the night job because we could not afford a babysitter for us. It was a lot of mental and psychological stress for us.
“The minimum wage of $15 means a life of decency. The campaign means more than the money. It means ability for labor to unionize, to have some respect and be treated like human beings by management. Sometimes it is not about higher wage, it is about living with some respect and dignity.
“I am really excited. I am completely on board. This is the international labor movement of our day. This is the future of the economy.”
Jessica Mclaurin, 24, unemployed, single mom, living at San Jose Obrero shelter
“I took part in the protest because it’s a good cause for low-income families. I am a low-income family.
“I feel like you should stand up because you have a right to stand up for what is right. I inspired myself to be part of this protest. It was interesting to see so many people out there and to fight for minimum wage was amazing. It is not a small but a really big issue.
“I am looking for jobs. A minimum wage of $15 would mean so much to me. I will be able to rent (not live in a shelter), pay bills and buy diapers for my son. It will make a huge difference.
“The most memorable and exciting part of the protest for me was the chanting – ‘Hold the burgers, hold the fries, make our wages super size.’ ”
Dexter Leggins, 60, part-time counselor, Chicago’s Melody Elementary School
“I was 8 years old when my grandmother had me march with Martin Luther King, years ago, during the civil rights movement. So to do this again as an adult is gotta be ridiculous. This march for Fight for $15 reminds me so much of that march.
“I used to think that if you work, work and work, you had to get the money you deserve. But now it’s hitting me that’s not true. If you cannot have a decent wage and you make just $7.75 an hour, you will end up living in a box or with someone.
“But parents are working with it. They are working two jobs or one-and-a-half jobs. But if you have two jobs, you have very little time for your children. So your children end up in the street, selling drugs or something like that. That’s white, black or brown. You will live in a neighborhood where the rent is cheap but it’s not safe. But then you are doing two jobs, who is gonna watch your kids?
“The children are the future. When I look at these kids, I get inspired. If we do not fight for them, then who will? They have no voice. A lot of parents get tired of fighting. They can’t take off work, especially single mothers. I will continue to fight for the children until the day I die.”