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McDonald’s workers celebrate city’s new $15 minimum hourly wage

“Today is the day that fast-food workers like me have fought for with a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears,” McDonald’s employee Adriana Alvarez said at a rally outside the company’s West Loop headquarters on Thursday.

Troy Gaston speaks to McDonald’s workers outside the company’s West Loop headquarters Thursday at a rally celebrating the new $15 minimum wage in Chicago.
Troy Gaston speaks to McDonald’s workers outside the company’s West Loop headquarters Thursday at a rally celebrating the new $15 minimum wage in Chicago.
Sam Heller/Sun-Times

Chicago’s $15 per hour minimum wage took effect Thursday, and McDonald’s workers rallied outside the fast-food giant’s corporate headquarters in the West Loop to celebrate — but also demand more.

McDonald’s has long been a focus of the “Fight for $15” movement, which pushed for a $15 minimum hourly wage. Cashiers, cooks and other employees who showed up Thursday held aloft two large red numerals — a “1” and a “5.”

“Today is the day that fast-food workers like me have fought for with a lot of hard work, sweat, and tears,” said McDonald’s employee Adriana Alvarez. “When we first announced our demands for a $15 minimum wage, we were told we were crazy. But we knew and still know that we were worth more than $7.85.”

The new minimum wage means Alvarez will live just a bit more comfortably and can more easily afford medicine and toys for her 9-year-old son.

Teresa Cervantes, who has worked for McDonald’s for 20 years, said a $15 wage is needed just to cover rent, food, and her medical bills.

But the workers want McDonald’s to do more.

“While we celebrate today, we know that our fight isn’t over and it has just begun,” Alvarez said.

“We are here at McDonald’s headquarters to say to this company that you can do more by following Chicago’s lead and paying everyone everywhere at least $15 an hour,” Alvarez added. “McDonald’s made nearly five billion dollars in profit last year during a pandemic.”

Speaking at a nearby union hall, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also acknowledged that while the $15 minimum wage is important, it is not nearly enough.

“We need to make sure that we are continuing the fight for workers so that they have a living wage, so that they can have savings, so that they have homeownership and so that they can pass wealth down to their children,” Lightfoot said.

McDonald’s has committed to raising the minimum wage at corporate-owned McDonald’s stores to an average of $15 — but corporate-owned sites make up only about 5% of McDonald’s nationwide.

McDonald’s issued a statement Thursday saying the responsibility for changing the minimum wage lies with elected officials and that the company is open to wage discussions with their employees.

The protesting workers also want McDonald’s employees to unionize, something which became incredibly important during the pandemic when they felt their jobs were in jeopardy, Alvarez said.

During the pandemic, Alvarez did see an increase in her wage, but her hours were cut significantly, nullifying the change. In order to gain respect and job security, a union is needed, she said.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) also spoke at the rally to support workers’ efforts to form a union.

“The fight is not over,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “These workers need to be respected.”

Adriana Alvarez was among the McDonald’s employees who spoke at a rally in front of the fast-food company’s corporate headquarters in the West Loop on Thursday, July 1, 2021.
Adriana Alvarez was among the McDonald’s employees who spoke at a rally in front of the fast-food company’s corporate headquarters in the West Loop on Thursday.
Sam Heller/Sun-Times