Standing up for Shakita

Trish Kahle reports on the fight to defend Shakita Moore, a low-wage worker who was fired for refusing to stay silent about on-the-job discrimination.

Shakita is backed up by fellow Fight for 15 activists at a picket of Jason's Deli (Fight for 15)Shakita is backed up by fellow Fight for 15 activists at a picket of Jason's Deli (Fight for 15)

THE WORKERS Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) is best known for fighting to raise the minimum wage to $15. But in late June, low-wage workers launched another campaign in Chicago against racism and sexism in the workplace.

The target: Jason's Deli. At the North Dearborn location, Shakita Moore was fired for standing up to racism, sexual harassment and physical threats from her manager.

"I was repeatedly threatened with 'a punch in the face,'" Moore said. When she raised concerns about the use of racist language at work, her manager told her he wasn't racist because he "just bought a color TV."

Moore was regularly subjected to inappropriate touching and sexual comments--all with the manager's knowledge. None of the managers or coworkers who perpetrated the harassment were ever disciplined. "As an African American," Moore said, "my civil rights were denied."

Her experience is a common one among low-wage fast food and retail workers, who are disproportionately women and people of color. Other members of WOCC connected with Moore's experience, including one Ecuadorian woman who works at McDonald's and was subjected to more than 10 minutes of anti-immigrant slurs from her manager after she was forced to take time off of work for an illness. Women workers at Whole Foods Market also identified with the experience of daily sexist degradation on the job.

What you can do

Call the Jason's Deli Regional Office at 972-233-7166. Ask for Human Resources and tell them you "Stand with Shakita and the fight for 15."

WOCC decided to mobilize with three central demands. The first is that Shakita Moore must be reinstated, in good standing and with full back pay. Second, Jason's Deli must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward sexual harassment, intimidation and racism in the workplace. And finally, the company must publicly report the policy so it can be held accountable.

On June 19, workers marched to Jason's Deli on North Dearborn during the lunch rush, entered the store, and began chanting and leafleting customers. Many were receptive and sympathetic when they heard what working conditions were like. Some even left without ordering as union members chanted and slowed business until ejected by police.

The manager and police threatened us for our action, but such direct actions have proven effective in winning reinstatement in other cities where fast food workers have been fired unjustly, such as a Wendy's worker in New York who was reinstated following a short sit-in.

This is the kind of action it's going to take to build our union's power, and to fight racism and sexism, as well as retaliation for organizing, at work. We'll be back, and we'll keep fighting until Shakita Moore has her job back.