We’re with Mary and Vincent

November 12, 2013

Trish Kahle reports on a small victory at a Wendy's restaurant in downtown Chicago.

THE MISTREATMENT of two Wendy's workers had the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) in the streets on November 8. Community supporters and clergy joined about 15 WOCC members, as they protested the manager's decision to cut hours for Mary and Vincent, who are both seniors.

In addition, the manager had refused for almost a week to sign an employment affidavit for Mary's subsidized senior housing, and Wendy's still owes Vincent back pay for a workplace injury in May.

Activists descended on the Wendy's in Chicago's downtown Loop to demand a reinstatement of hours, payment of Vincent's back wages and a signature on Mary's housing form immediately. As protesters crowded in the door, chanting "Sign it now!" the manager flatly refused to sign Mary's form, even when entreated by WOCC organizers, two clergy members and Mary herself.

Supporters then started a picket outside the store, leafleting passerby and stopping business as the manager locked the doors to prevent an occupation of the store. Mary and Vincent spoke out against the way Wendy's was treating its workers.

Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago march on a recent day of action
Members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago march on a recent day of action (Steve Rhodes)

After demonstrating the power we had to slow and even stop business, Mary re-entered the store with Rev. Liz Munoz and asked her manager to sign her form again. This time, the manager signed without hesitation.

WOCC members said that demonstrations would continue if Mary and Vincent's hours were not reinstated in forthcoming schedules and if Vincent didn't receive his back pay.

In a battle that showed how ruthlessly fast-food managers will attack workers who are organizing, it was a small victory that showed the power of workers' collective action.

In addition to Wendy's workers from other parts of the city traveling downtown to stand with Mary and Vincent, workers from Whole Foods, Sally Beauty Supply, McDonald's, Burger King, Macy's and Sears came to support them as well.

If we had not demonstrated on Friday, Mary would have had her phone and lights turned off.

The action also succeeded in helping strengthen our organization. Every small victory is transformative for workers, especially those who have recently joined WOCC and haven't yet participated in many demonstrations.

And the power of solidarity not only terrified Mary and Vincent's manager--it also strengthened Mary and Vincent's resolve to continue fighting. Both have worked at Wendy's for more than a decade. Both are old enough that they should not have to work at all.

"I stand with Miss Mary," one worker said, "because no one should have to work when they're old enough to have 16 great-grandbabies. But as long as she's working, I'm with her."

Mary, a quiet woman with an iron will, wiped away tears after the action as she addressed her fellow WOCC members. "Thank you for standing with me," she said. "I can't tell you what this means to me."

Tyree Johnson summed it up. "I've been at McDonald's for 21 years. What they've had to deal with for 10 and 11, I've put up with for 21 years. You can only take so much. I've got her back, and I got the back of everyone in this room and in the union. All the way! They'll mess with you but no one messes with the union."

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