Thousands of workers join ‘Fight for $15’ protests at O’Hare and across Chicago

CHICAGO —  A nationwide “Day of Disruption” didn’t really disrupt much as the Fight for $15 made its way to O'Hare Airport Tuesday afternoon, where demonstrators and the SEIU say workers need to earn $15 an hour to raise their families.

Protests started off early Tuesday morning outside a corporate McDonald’s at Chicago and Damen. About 60 people were arrested after sitting in the middle of the intersection. It wasn’t long before police moved them out and into two waiting buses to get their ticket, and then they were released. The protestors were mainly cooks and cashiers.

McDonald's released the following statement Tuesday morning:

McDonald’s takes seriously our role in helping strengthen communities as we and our franchisees separately employ hundreds of thousands of people, providing many with their very first job. We invest in opportunities for McDonald’s employees to finish high school, earn a college degree and develop the valuable skills necessary to build successful careers even beyond our restaurants.

The effort is part of a broader "Day of Disruption" planned by activist group Fight for $15, which advocates for raising the minimum wage. Uber drivers, fast food workers and home care aides also demonstrated.

Shortly after the McDonald's demonstration, protestors joined hospital workers at Northwestern Memorial Hospital downtown, where organizers say several hundred protestors, many part of the Service Employees International Union, walked from the hospital to Lake Shore Drive. These protestors were on the sidewalk, as police officers on bikes made sure they didn't move out onto the drive.

The Fight for $15 ended at O'Hare Airport, where the SEIU estimates there were 2,000 protestors, 500 of whom walked off the job at American and United. Janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants are among those rallying for a $15 hourly minimum wage. Some of those participating are contracted by Prospect Airport Services and AirScrub Inc.

"My daughters need root canals and I can’t even take them to do that," said Kisha Rivera, who makes $10.50 an hour.

Oliwia Pac, a student who works several jobs at O'Hare, said the lowest paying is as a wheelchair attendant making minimum wage or $8.75 an hour.

"It’s tough. With the wages I live paycheck to paycheck," Pac said.

Protestors say they we weren’t trying to shut the airport down, but to elevate the voice of the workers. O'Hare is an economic engine. They say they deserve to make a living wage. Former governor Pat Quinn has also taken up the Fight for $15. He’s gathering signatures to put a referendum on the ballot so voters can make the decision. He needs 100,000 signatures, and hopes to have enough by this time next year.

"I’m here supporting the people for a decent wage," Quinn said. "[They] deserve a decent wage and that’s what this movement is all about."

O'Hare Airport officials said the demonstrations did not cause any disruptions of service.