Meet the Workers Who Took Overnight Buses to Bring the Fight for 15 to McDonald’s Stockholders

Stephen Franklin

Workers are demanding that McDonald’s pay a living wage. (Stephen Franklin)

As the line of marchers grew and drum­mers and bands loud­ly revved up, Mar­cus Stone, an $8 an hour McDonald’s cook, was pumped.

I believe it is going to hap­pen, if we fight hard enough,” he said, cov­ered in a thin plas­tic slick­er because of a bone-chill­ing rain drench­ing down­town Chicago.

He took a nine-hour, all-night bus from Kansas City with his wife and four chil­dren, their sev­en-month-old includ­ed, to march Tues­day through crowd­ed rush-hour streets in what the Fight for 15 move­ment called its largest-ever protest against the fast-food giant.

The march was planned to send a mes­sage the day before the McDonald’s annu­al stock­hold­er meet­ing, where more protests were planned for today.

His wife Dougle­sha, 27, explained some facts of life com­mon­ly repeat­ed by many of the marchers.

She said that Mar­cus’ salary and the $8.50 an hour she earns as a home health care aide, plus food stamps they receive, means pay­ing only essen­tial bills and strug­gling by as they put the oth­ers aside.

Some­times there’s not enough for even those bills, and so she wash­es the chil­dren with water boiled on the elec­tric stove. And some­times she won­ders, she said, whether they will have enough to get through the day. But she hasn’t lost hope in the dri­ve to boost wages for work­ers like her and her husband.

I can’t give up. I can’t stop because we are all in this thing togeth­er,” she said. We are fam­i­ly. We are cov­er­ing each other’s back.”

Indeed, Madie Cum­mings, 40, got on a bus ear­ly in the morn­ing in Cleve­land, where she is a kinder­garten teacher, so she could show her sup­port for the work­ers’ dri­ve for $15 an hour and union rights. She knows there are some who doubt if the five-year-old dri­ve will pay off for them because they have been let down so many times.”

That wasn’t the mood on the bus, how­ev­er. I didn’t get to sleep because every­one was talk­ing and every­one was very moti­vat­ed,” she said.

Clutch­ing a poster about a pover­ty wages,” Bill Bolinger, 75, from Unit­ed Auto Work­ers Local 31, who put in 44 years at a Gen­er­al Motors Co. plant in Kansas City, said he can’t imag­ine any­one liv­ing on $7.25 an hour. He was earn­ing $28 an hour when he retired 11 years ago. We fought for that stuff,” he said, but unfor­tu­nate­ly the unions didn’t reach out to the low­er wage workers.”

Slow­ly the march swept along rain-soaked streets, wheel­chairs and baby car­riages here and there. Answer­ing calls shout­ed over bull­horns, the marchers chant­ed back about democ­ra­cy and win­ning their fight. They waved ban­ners. Day­time work­ers busi­ly head­ing home rushed by them, but some stopped to stare and take pictures.

Walk­ing along was Pat Puc­cio, a $9‑an-hour work­er at a Detroit area Wendy’s, who says he served in the U.S. mil­i­tary for 17 years. He quick­ly added that, late­ly, life hasn’t been so easy. I’m strug­gling real­ly hard.”

So, too, Hal­bert Bald­win, 22, who earns $8.25 an hour work­ing in a St. Louis nurs­ing home kitchen. He said he is strug­gling every day. I got two kids to support.”

Peo­ple over prof­it,” read his hand-made sign.

In Min­neapo­lis, where Ser­e­na Thomas, 24, works as a wait­ress and orga­niz­er for Restau­rant Oppor­tu­ni­ties Cen­ters Unit­ed, some work­ers are fear­ful of speak­ing up about their wages, know­ing their boss­es don’t want that kind of talk in the workplace.”

Yet that fear and the grow­ing pow­er of oppo­nents to wage increas­es for low wage work­ers, hasn’t damp­ened her hopes.

We are more unit­ed,” she said.

Stephen Franklin is a for­mer labor and work­place reporter for the Chica­go Tri­bune, was until recent­ly the eth­nic media project direc­tor with Pub­lic Nar­ra­tive in Chica­go. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heart­land Loss­es and What They Mean for Work­ing Amer­i­cans (2002), and has report­ed through­out the Unit­ed States and the Mid­dle East.

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