After 10 years of working at McDonald's in Chicago, Nancy Salgado says she can't make ends meet on her salary of $8.25 an hour.
"I haven't even put up a Christmas tree because I don't have money for it yet," Salgado said as workers picketed in front of a McDonald's on the city's West Side. "I'm fed up with all that, and I'm here to fight."
Salgado was among thousands of fast-food workers in 100 cities across the country who walked off their jobs Thursday to fight for a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour. The nationwide protests stem from a campaign that started last year to show how difficult it is to live on the federal minimum wage.
"We're coming together stronger, and we're not going to stop," she said. "We want to make sure McDonald's knows ... it's just not fair."
Protests across Chicago were planned all day outside various McDonald's, Wendy's and Walgreens locations.
Elmer Head Jr. has worked at Walgreens for more than 17 years. He said he received 15-cent raises until recently when the company told him raises have stopped.
"It's just not fair," he said, "and I'm here to take a stand."
Head said he and his wife struggle to pay for rent and health insurance while caring for their kids. "We have to juggle that each and every week," he said. "We sacrifice. There's a lot we don't do."
The strikes come as President Barack Obama called for a hike in the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, which was last raised in 2009.
Obama asked for a $10 an hour standard. It would be higher than any current state-wide minimum.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn both support the move.
"The time has come to update this important protection for working families across the county," Emanuel said in a statement. "American men and women work extremely hard every day to provide opportunity for their children, and it is essential that we create an environment in which they can support their families and achieve their dreams."
"No one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty," Quinn said. "Increasing the minimum wage will ensure that workers get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, while fighting poverty and bolstering our economy."
For Salgado, it could mean paying for food and school clothes for her kids. It could also mean buying a little bit of holiday tradition.
"A tree means a lot to our kids," she said. "It's not just Santa Claus. My son gets excited by seeing the lights."