Fast food workers joined teachers during a one-day strike in Chicago on Friday. The two groups are joining forces to push for more equitable financial policies in the city.
The workers are advocating for a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to form a union as part of the Fight for $15 campaign, which has staged protests all over the country. The Chicago Teachers Union, meanwhile, is staging a strike in what they say is part of a broader critique of the state legislature’s current budget impasse.
The union said the strike is aimed at addressing the financial distress of Chicago Public Schools as well as the persistent underfunding of social services agencies. Chris Baehrend, the vice president of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS), told DNAInfo that teachers are demonstrating with fast food workers because “our students deserve quality, living wages of at least $15 per hour and the advantages a unionized workplace can provide.”
— Juliet B. Martinez (@JulietBMartinez) April 1, 2016
This fight is especially important for women of color. People of color account for 42 percent of those earning the minimum wage. Women make up two-thirds of the fast-food workforce, according to a 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research report. A 2012 report by the Food Chain Workers Alliance also found that 13 percent of people working in the food industry rely on food stamps. Although the typical stereotype of a fast food worker is a teenager or college student, the largest share of fast food workers are between 25 and 54 years old and 68 percent of workers who earn between $7.26 and $10.09 are actually older than 20, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research report.
The Fight for $15 campaign made its first big splash when it staged a one-day strike in New York City in 2012. Last fall, the campaign held strikes in a record 270 cities across the country. Fast food workers have seen recent victories in New York state, where fast food workers won a $15 an hour minimum wage last summer, as well as Los Angeles, Oakland, and San Francisco. In 2014, Seattle workers won a gradual $15 minimum wage. Seattle workers saw the first increase to $10 and $11 for some businesses in April of last year. The $15 minimum wage will arrive for all businesses in 2021. California passed a statewide $15 minimum wage.
The campaign is having a significant influence on the 2016 presidential race. Republican candidates were forced to address the issue at a debate held in Milwaukee last November since fast food workers went on strike that day. The moderator, Neil Cavuto, asked the candidates how they would address the movement to increase the minimum wage. GOP front-runner Donald Trump and Ben Carson, who has since left the race, shot down the idea, but Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) appeared to defend the idea.
— Stacy (@stacydavisgates) April 1, 2016
The $15 minimum wage has also been hotly debated among Democratic candidates. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has endorsed a $15 minimum wage, while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has advocated a $12 minimum wage. Clinton defended the idea by pointing out that Alan Krueger, the former chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers and a professor of economics at Princeton University, does not support a $15 minimum wage. Krueger wrote that it is unclear if a wage raise of that magnitude is feasible for every state, city, and town in the United States. Clinton supported New York’s specific plan for a minimum wage, slowly raising the wage and eventually getting to $15 in 2021. She argues states could set higher wages than the federal minimum, but as the New York Times editorial board has noted, 21 states don’t have a minimum wage higher than the federal level and 29 with minimum wages higher than the federal level don’t address the local cost of living.