VILLA PARK, Ill. — Comparing their campaign to the civil rights movement, fast food workers from across the country voted Saturday to escalate their efforts for $15-an-hour pay and union membership to include nonviolent civil disobedience.
More than 1,300 workers gathered in a convention in center in suburban Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign that has spread to dozens of cities in less than two years. Wearing T-shirts that said "Fight for $15" and "We Are Worth More," the workers cheered loudly and said they would win if they stuck together.
"People are just fed up," said Cindy Enriquez, 20, of Phoenix.
The $8.25 an hour she makes working for McDonald's is not enough to go to college and become a police officer and barely enough to pay her rent, Enriquez said.
"We need to ... get (restaurant owners') attention," perhaps with more strikes or blocking stores, she said. "We're going to keep on going."
The Service Employees International Union has been providing financial and organizational support to the fast-food protests. They began in late 2012 in New York City and have included daylong strikes and a loud but peaceful demonstration outside this year's McDonald's Corp. shareholder meeting, where more than 130 protesters were arrested after stepping onto company property.
Saturday's convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included sessions on civil disobedience and leadership training. Kendall Fells, an organizing director for the campaign and a representative of SEIU, said when and what actions happen next will be up to workers in each city.
The Rev. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said the movement is young but as important as when civil disobedience efforts began during the early years of the civil rights movement.
"People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed," Barber said.
"This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages," Barber said. "If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy."