Chicago Whole Foods Workers Strike in Protest of Unfair Termination of Working Mother
Workers Demand Reinstatement and Back Pay for Whole Foods Employee Fired for Staying Home to Care for her Special Needs Son During Polar Vortex
Karen Lewis, CTU President: “You do not fire people who are taking care of children in inclement weather. That is not only unjust, the policy itself has to be evaluated”
CHICAGO–Striking Whole Foods workers, supported by fellow members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, Karen Lewis of the Chicago Teachers Union, and community supporters convened at 10:00 A.M. today at Whole Foods’ regional office to protest Rhiannon Broschat’s unjust termination and to demand her immediate reinstatement and back pay. The group will then hold a strike protest at 12:30 P.M. at the 3640 N. Halsted St. Whole Foods. Rhiannon, a Whole Foods employee of almost two years, was terminated after she was forced to stay home to take care of her special needs son during the polar vortex that prompted Chicago Public Schools to close on January 28.
“It’s unfair what happened to me, I should have never been fired, the policy that my employers have don’t take into consideration what working single moms go through and that needs to change,” said Rhiannon Broschat, the terminated single mother. “It’s amazing that so many of my coworkers came and are showing support and solidarity, we are not going to stop fighting until we find justice.”
On Tuesday, January 28 Chicago experienced its second “Polar Vortex,” with subzero temperatures and high wind-chill. This prompted Chicago Public Schools to close for a second time this year. The dangerous temperature and schools closings left Rhiannon Broschat, a single mother, scrambling for childcare and unable to find anyone to watch her special needs son. As a result, Rhiannon was forced to call off work to stay home and care for him. Rhiannon was fired the next day by Whole Foods management.
Following the news of her termination, Rhiannon’s Whole Foods co-workers decided to stand in solidarity by going on strike in an effort to obtain justice for her and to assure fair treatment for others in the future. Chicago Whole Foods workers have been organizing to fight for a $15 living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. They have also fought for a revamping of their attendance policy.
“Whole Foods says it fights poverty worldwide by offering higher wages and fair business practices. They say they stand by women as primary care givers. How can a business fight poverty by not paying us enough money to get out of poverty?” said Matthew Camp, a Whole Foods worker on strike. “How can they stand by women and at the same time glibly and heartlessly fire a woman for prioritizing her son over her job? I’m standing with Rhiannon because I don’t want to see another single mother lose her job, or another child have to wonder where their next meal will come from. I want to see Rhiannon reinstated and Whole Foods apologize for this gross violation of the very principles they claim to espouse.”
Recently, Whole Foods did promise a more fair attendance policy, which includes excused absences for “a metro wide weather disaster, which affects a significant number of people.” During Chicago’s first Polar Vortex on the week of January 6 Whole Foods excused many employees who could not make it into work because of the weather.
In just a couple of days, hundreds of concerned citizens across the nation have signed the Rhiannon’s MoveOn petition demanding that she be immediately reinstated.
“We have companies that claim to have family values, we have a government that claims to promote family values and yet, when we see what family values are, they do not look like what happened to Rhiannon,” said Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, during the press conference. “You do not fire people who are taking care of children in inclement weather. That is so not only unjust, the policy itself needs to be evaluated. There has to come a time when we stop paying lip service to what family values mean. Family values also mean that when people work, they get a living wage. This is not an entitlement. It’s a fair exchange for labor.”
Fast food is a $200 billion a year industry and retail is a $4.7 trillion industry, yet many service workers across the country earn minimum wage or just above it and are forced to rely on public assistance programs to provide for their families and get healthcare for their children. Nationally, the median wage for cooks, cashiers and crew at fast-food restaurants is just $8.94 an hour.
In the Chicago metro area there are 275,000 low wage fast food and retail workers. An adult with one child needs to make $20.86 an hour working full time in the Chicago area just to afford the basics, according to a model developed by a professor at MIT.
Founded in November of 2012, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago is a union of fast food and retail workers. The workers’ Fight for 15 campaign seeks a $15 an hour wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. The Fight for 15 campaign is supported by an ever-expanding coalition of community, labor and faith-based groups including: Action Now; Albany Park Neighborhood Council; Arise Chicago; Brighton Park Neighborhood Council; Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Chicago Jobs with Justice; Chicago Teachers Union; Grassroots Collaborative; Illinois Hunger Coalition; Jane Addams Senior Caucus; Lakeview Action Coalition; Southside Together Organizing for Power (STOP); SEIU Local 1; SEIU Local 73; SEIU Healthcare Illinois; Indiana, Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation; United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Western Region; and Workers United.