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McDonald’s and Chicago airport workers plan to strike in push for $15 wage

Strikes are planned Nov. 29 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and at myriad McDonald’s restaurants in a nationwide day of protests that the Fight for $15 movement said will be its most disruptive yet.

The Fight for $15 campaign announced protests at 20 airports and strikes and acts of mass civil disobedience at McDonald’s restaurants in 340 cities. It said it expects “tens of thousands” of people to participate.

The campaign said Monday that after the election of Donald Trump to the White House it “won’t back down” from its activism in the face of an incoming administration it believes “threatens an extremist agenda to move the country to the right.”

Airport and fast-food workers are expected to be joined on picket lines by child-care workers, home-care workers and graduate assistants, who are among the estimated 64 million U.S. workers who earn less than $15 an hour.

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O’Hare is the only airport where workers are planning to walk off the job. About 500 O’Hare workers — baggage handlers, airplane cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants, all employed by private contractors — committed to a strike after a vote last week to protest what they see as low wages, inadequate working conditions and retaliation against organizing efforts. They are being organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 1.

The airport workers plan to picket outside the terminals and conduct silent pickets inside. The Chicago Department of Aviation said it doesn’t anticipate any disruption in service.

O’Hare baggage handler Raquel Brito said at a news conference Monday that the strike was scheduled after the brunt of the Thanksgiving travel rush is over so as not to alienate holiday travelers and instead get their support.

“O’Hare airport workers often can’t afford a proper Thanksgiving dinner and know what it’s like to miss Thanksgiving with our families,” said Brito, 21. “However, we respect families traveling to be together, and that is why we’re holding off our strike until after the Thanksgiving holiday.”

National Fight for $15 organizers said Nov. 29 was selected because it is the fourth anniversary of the fast-food worker strikes that launched the Fight for $15 campaign.

In addition to demanding a $15 minimum wage and union rights, the campaign said it will keep up “unrelenting opposition” to efforts to “block wage increases, gut workers’ rights or healthcare, deport immigrants or support racism or racist policies.”

“On Nov. 8 our fight got tougher, but it only recommits our resolve,” Kendall Fells, organizing director with the campaign, said in a conference call with reporters.

The protests are scheduled to begin at 6 a.m. Nov. 29 with strikes at McDonald’s restaurants. The airport protests are to start at noon.

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Though the protests are in large part directed against Trump’s rhetoric and policy promises, which include deporting illegal immigrants and repealing the Affordable Care Act, they also are in reaction to economic conditions that ushered in his win.

“America does not feel fair anymore to a lot of people the elites” ignore, Oliwia Pac, a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare, said during a conference call the campaign held Monday. A $15 wage “would mean I might have money to spend on something other than just surviving.”

Fells said it’s hard to say whether Trump would support an increase in the minimum wage.

aelejalderuiz@chicagotribune.com

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