July 19, 2013
By Neal Tepel
Chicago, Ill. – Following several strikes and demonstrations, workers at Whole Foods in Chicago have seen a pay increase of $2 an hour, while employees at the downtown Nordstrom Rack on State Street received a .25 cent per-hour raise, according to the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC). The union currently represents about a thousand fast food and retail workers employed in more than 100 businesses, mostly in the city's downtown area.
Before workers picketed, the average wage for employees at the Whole Foods and Nordstrom Rack locations was $10 and $11 respectively, said union spokesman Deivid Rojas. A number of local McDonald's employees have also received a .10 cent hourly raise, he added.
Since demonstrations and rallies beginning last April by WOCC, the union claims to have organized 400 new members.
"A lot of workers who were previously on the fence about joining WOCC have reached out to coworkers and asked them to join," Rojas said. "That means we got our message out. A lot of workers are interested."
The union, which formed in November 2012, organized citywide strikes beginning April that included workers from 30 various retail stores and fast food restaurants, such as Macy's, McDonald's, Portillo's, Subway and Victoria's Secret. The low-wage employees have been demanding a $15 minimum wage and better working conditions as part of the union's "Fight for 15" campaign, which has the backing of other local labor groups and community organizations.
At the end of the day, a .10 cent or .25 cent raise may not push the workers to the $15 minimum wage that the union is calling for, but Rojas said the pay increases are a big step in the right direction. That's because some of the employees have worked for years in the various establishments and "for them to get these raises is a huge deal to them," he stressed.
A majority of Chicago's fast food and retail workers are making minimum wage, or close to it, Rojas said. Illinois' minimum wage is $8.25 per hour, but Gov. Pat Quinn has said he is in favor of raising it.