Workers’ rights groups protest restaurant industry convention at McCormick Place

Demonstrators rallied outside the National Restaurant Association gathering at McCormick Place, demanding the City Council raise tipped workers’ minimum pay.

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Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) speaks about providing fair wages for service workers at a protest against the National Restaurant Association, which was holding its convention at McCormick Place. Labor groups oppose the trade group’s lobbying against wage hikes.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Protesters and two alderpersons rallied outside the National Restaurant Association’s convention at McCormick Place Monday, demanding the City Council raise tipped workers’ minimum pay while condemning the association’s push to loosen child labor laws.

The protesters also condemned the trade group — which they mockingly called “the other NRA” — for lobbying against wage increases for workers with money it gets from those very employees who pay for mandated safety training programs.

Alds. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Jessie Fuentes (26th) assured the protesters that Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration would support an ordinance raising tipped workers’ pay from $9.24 per hour, for large companies, to at least $15.

“Workers are at the table and will no longer be on the menu,” Sigcho-Lopez told the crowd.

Sigcho-Lopez said one of Johnson’s first meetings after he was elected was with members of One Fair Wage, the national group lobbying to end “sub-minimum wages” for tipped restaurant workers.

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Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) assures demonstrators that Mayor Brandon Johnson supports raising the pay of tipped workers. “Workers are at the table and will no longer be on the menu,” he said.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

“Our communities are affected by these unfair and unjust practices,” said Sigcho-Lopez, who is poised to be the City Council’s new Housing Committee chair. “We know the sub-minimum wage or low wages create ... inequalities as well as the violence that we see in our communities.”

There is no current draft ordinance to raise the wages of tipped workers, Fuentes said, but she is willing to work with One Fair Wage to “figure it out.”

Any ordinance would allow tipped workers to receive the minimum wage that other workers get and allow them to keep their tips, she said.

Johnson’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) speaks about providing fair wages for service workers outside McCormick Place. The National Restaurant Association has reportedly lobbied for bills in other states that would allow teens to work later on school nights.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The protesters also condemned the National Restaurant Association’s alleged lobbying to loosen child labor laws.

As the service industry faces a labor shortage, the association has allegedly lobbied for state bills, outside of Illinois, that would allow teenagers to work later on school nights, according to a report released Friday by One Fair Wage and the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.

“It’s 2023, and we still have to fight for child labor laws?” asked Mike Oles, organizing director of Our Revolution, a labor activist group.

The National Restaurant Association did not reply to a request for comment.

The U.S. Labor Department has documented a 69% increase since 2018 in children employed illegally. Most of those violations, 64%, were in the food service industry, a Mother Jones investigation found.

Protesters hold up banners and and march during a protest against the National Restaurant Alliance (NRA) outside of McCormick Place Convention Center at 2200 McCormick Place in South Loop during the National Restaurant Association Show, Monday, May 22, 2023. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Demonstrators carrying banners march outside McCormick Place. The U.S. Labor Department has reported a 69% increase since 2018 in children employed illegally. Most of those violations were in the food service industry.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Bills to relax child labor laws were introduced in at least 10 states over the last two years, all backed by a mix of business groups, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Lawmakers in Wisconsin passed a bill extending working hours for children, but the bill was vetoed by the governor last year. In Ohio, lawmakers passed a similar bill, allowing children as young as 14 to work longer hours during the school year, moving the limit from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The bill hasn’t been signed into law.

The protesters were also angry about a New York Times report from January that showed the National Restaurant Association lobbied to suppress tipped workers’ wages with funds from mandatory training programs paid by those very workers.

“We can no longer allow for our siblings to become members of a sector that is actually working against them,” Fuentes said.

Shortly before the protesters marched to a McDonald’s on King Drive, Nataki Rhodes of One Fair Wage called on the protesters to attend Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Johnson’s first as mayor, to keep the pressure on the new administration.

“They’re on our side, but we must show up,” Rhodes said.

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Nataki Rhodes of One Fair Wage called on protesters to attend Wednesday’s City Council meeting to keep pressure on the administration of Mayor Brandon Johnson.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

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