As summer creeps closer and the pandemic wanes, many Chicagoans are clamoring to return to dining and drinking as usual. What they’re finding, however, is a drained and depleted workforce: one that’s calling for better pay on all corners of the restaurant and bar industry. Chicago service industry workers who support a $15 minimum wage are scheduled to gather for a wage strike Wednesday afternoon outside Gibsons, the iconic Gold Coast steakhouse.
The event, organized by groups including One Fair Wage, Fight for $15, and Women’s March, stresses that the industry’s labor challenges aren’t the result of laziness and expanded unemployment benefits; it’s a lack of decent paying jobs with livable wages and benefits.
Fight for $15, a coalition of fast-food workers, has for years organized actions against major chains like McDonald’s. The group held a strike Thursday, May 20, walking from Union Park to McDonald’s headquarters in West Loop to again call for an increased minimum wage.
The leap from fast-food chains to a Chicago institution like Gibsons, routinely one of the most profitable restaurants in the country — one with table service, alcohol, and tipping — is significant. It’s indicative of a larger push seen all over the country as workers, disillusioned and angered by the treatment they’ve received from employers and patrons in the midst of a global health crisis, demand more commitments from their bosses than ever before. Local efforts to unionize, including a contentious organizing campaign at Colectivo Coffee, have also taken on more urgency as a result of the pandemic.
While many operators blame their inability to bring on employees on the highly disputed notion that “no one wants to work,” some Chicago restaurant owners have already embraced higher wages — even if it means raising prices. These include full-service spots (which generally have more staff and thus larger payrolls) such as Southern restaurant Big Jones in Andersonville and Alpine-inspired Flat and Point in Logan Square.
Meanwhile, restaurant owners say their struggles finding workers are hamstringing them as the city lifts capacity restrictions. Their current employees are overworked, and some are cutting hours. Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville has even scaled back its menu to deal with their reduced workforce mixed with increased customer demand. A Gibsons spokesperson didn’t immediately respond for comment.
In other news...
— Chicago’s hospitality community mourns the death of Aniello “Red” Fontano, 92, the founder of Italian sandwich shop Fontanto’s Subs, according to Dean Richards of WGN. Fontano and his wife, Gilda, founded the shop in 1963 and have served generations of University of Illinois Chicago students out of the storefront at 1058 W. Polk Street. The funeral and visitation is slated for 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursday at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Little Italy.
— Independent venues, some of the hardest-hit businesses during the pandemic, could collectively receive as much as $100 million in relief and recovery funds under Arts Alliance Illinois’ proposed Illinois Creative Future Fund. The group is asking residents to contact legislators in support of their funding proposal, which would allocate $500 million out of federal American Rescue Plan to help creative industries in the state get back on their feet after the pandemic.
— New Era didn’t learn a thing after last year when the clothing maker unveiled a line of ugly baseball caps with the lowlight coming from its Chicago hats that featured a hideous deep-dish pizza logo. The hats were widely mocked and mercifully forgotten during the pandemic. Unfortunately, New Era doubled down on its questionable design releasing new hats on Tuesday that not only included the same deep-dish logo, but also a series of Chicago-area area codes emblazoned on the front (for some reason 815 and 847 were omitted). The new hats didn’t survive the day. New Era pulled the Local Market caps from its website on Wednesday morning.
Who at New Era approved taking “gRaPhIc DeSiGn Is My PaSsIoN” approach to their local market ball caps? pic.twitter.com/wdjqzl7ud5— Chuck Sudo (@bportseasoning) May 25, 2021
— Officials from McCormick Place Convention Center say that 2022 will be a normal year with a full slate of shows and events planned. Officials conducted a Wednesday morning news conference and say they already have 122 events on the books for 2022. It was a good sign Sunday when the Chicago Sky played its WNBA season opener at nearby Wintrust Arena with fans in attendance. Convention official say they were waiting for the arena to reopen before moving forward with their own plans.