Demonstrators rally for better wages outside a McDonald's restaurant in New York, as part of a national protest, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. Demonstrations planned in 100 cities are part of push by labor unions, worker advocacy groups and Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Saying it’s “time to act”, a group of Chicago aldermen, along with advocacy groups, low-wage workers and community members, are backing a set of city referendums on the March 18 ballot calling for a higher minimum wage.
All eight members of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Coalition, along with Aldermen Joe Moreno (1), Will Burns (4) and Jason Ervin (28), are backing the measure. Last year, a coalition of advocacy groups worked to place a non-binding referendum on the March ballot to establish a minimum wage in Chicago.
The referendum asks if the city should require a minimum wage of $15 per hour for employees of companies with an annual gross revenues in excess of $50 million.
Together, the aldermen and advocates argue that a higher wage is needed for working families to survive on the kinds of minimum wage jobs that prevalent throughout the economy and are often the primary or only option for workers.
Currently, a full-time minimum wage worker in Chicago only earns $17,000 a year, while a majority of Chicago’s low-wage workers are over the age of 30 and over half live in households receiving all of their income from low-wage jobs, according to a 2012 report by the Women Employed and Action Now Institute.
Progressive Reform Coalition member Alderman Bob Fioretti (2) says raising the minimum wage is long overdue, and it’s time to give workers an opportunity to earn a living wage.
“This referendum on the minimum wage is so important because it’s finally sparking the citywide conversation about tackling growing inequality and poverty that we’re seeing,” Fioretti told Ward Room. “The current minimum wage is keeping too many Chicago residents in poverty, and that has widespread negative impacts for the entire city.”
In a statement, Katelyn Johnson, Executive Director of Action Now which is spearheading the city referendum campaign, put the focus on the large corporations that often earn billion in profits each year yet argue that a higher minimum wage is unsustainable.
“Demanding major multi-billion dollar corporations, such as McDonald’s and Walmart, to pay their workers $15 an hour is a real opportunity to support low-wage workers and their families, to lift thousands of Chicagoans out of poverty, and to boost Illinois’ economy by strengthening our small businesses,” she said in a statement.
Community organizations supporting the referendum include Action Now, Grassroots Collaborative’s “Take Back Chicago” Campaign, SEIU Healthcare Illinois and others.
The Progressive Reform Coalition includes Aldermen Fioretti, Roderick Sawyer (6), Leslie Hairston (5), Toni Foukes (15), Ricardo Munoz (22), Scott Waguespack (32), Nick Sposato (36) and John Arena (45).
The non-binding referendum will appear on the March ballot in 103 precincts in 20 Chicago wards across the city. A press conference will be held Thursday at 10:00 a.m. at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington.