Credit: Courtesy Worker's Organizing Committee of Chicago

A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.

“I started working at McDonald’s when I was 16. I am now 27. My mom was working day and night to make sure we were OK, so I felt like, I should help my mom now. I’m old enough to provide something. So I decided to do it for fun, like a hobby.

“I love taking care of customers. I can work kitchen, I can work drive-through, I can work the front counter, I can make fries, I can move those big, heavy boxes. I speak Spanish and English, and I’m very outgoing, very friendly. Some of the customers tell me, ‘Oh, thank you, you made my day with your smile.’

“I liked it, and I kept going, and then I left school for work. I got pregnant at 19 and had my baby at 20. I decided to have another baby, and now I have two. Work wasn’t a hobby any more; I had to pay my bills.

“At McDonald’s, I work from six to two Tuesdays and Wednesdays. And the rest of the week, I work at Burger King 11 to four. I’m still making $8.25 an hour, with 12 years of experience. We have no benefits. The price of everything has gone up, higher and higher, and our wages are still, like, frozen.

“I can’t have my kids on a soccer team or anything like that because I can’t afford it. $60, $70, that’s a lot for me. I do not have a Link card. I don’t have food stamps. I’m just trying to raise my kids with the minimum wage. It gets harder and harder as they get bigger and ask for more stuff.

“My sister, she’s the one that got involved first with Fight for 15 [a fair-wage campaign led by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a union of fast-food and retail workers]. She was calling me constantly, like literally every day: ‘You gotta come to a meeting.’ I was like, ‘Fine.’ I really wanted her to stop bothering me. So I go in there, and I heard everybody’s stories, and I couldn’t believe I was there in that moment. I could say, ‘I’m tired of this. I’m tired of cut hours, I’m tired of disrespect, I’m tired of the minimum wage.’ There is a problem, and it’s not only Nancy’s problem.

“The next week, we had a strike. July 31, 2013. It was a really early strike—you had to be there by 4:30. As I’m getting up, I’m like, ‘No, I can’t go. What if I get fired? How am I gonna pay my bills, pay my rent, feed my kids?’ My daughter was gonna go with me too, and I’m like, ‘Just forget it. Go back to sleep. I have to go to work.’ She was like, ‘Mommy, you can’t do that. You gotta fight.’ It still puts tears to my eyes. I want her to know her mother fought for her rights.

“I was supposed to be at work at six, and I went on strike. Oh my gosh, that’s something that made me feel like my voice is heard. And then December 5, we had another strike. It was really cold but really good. I’m fired up, and I can’t take it no more.”