As labor gatherings go, this one was highly unusual — 68 workers arrived on charter buses from St. Louis, 100 from New York City and 180 from Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas. Fifty flew in from Los Angeles and two dozen from Seattle.
These were not well-paid carpenters or autoworkers heading to their annual convention, hoping to sneak in a round of golf. Rather they were fast-food workers — 1,200 of them — from McDonald’s, Burger King and other chains, eager to pursue their ambitious goal of creating a $15-an-hour wage floor for the nation’s four million fast-food workers.
Crowding over the weekend into an expo center in this suburb west of Chicago, many wore boldly lettered T-shirts proclaiming “We Are Worth More” and “Raise Up for $15.”
“If we win $15, that would change my life,” said Cherri Delisline, 27, a single mother who earns $7.35 an hour after 10 years as a McDonald’s cashier in North Charleston, S.C. “I get paid so little money that it’s hard to make ends meet, and I’ve had to move back in with my mother.”
It was by far the largest gathering of fast-food workers, and it was largely underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, a powerhouse with two million members known for unionizing hospital workers, home care aides and janitors. Mary Kay Henry, the union’s president, said the S.E.I.U. has adopted the fast-food...