FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, file photo, protesting fast food workers demonstrate outside a McDonald's restaurant on New York's Fifth Avenue, in New York. Fast-food workers in about 100 cities will walk off the job Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, to build on a campaign that began about a year ago to call attention to the difficulties of living on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
A coalition of advocacy groups says it has collected the necessary signatures 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.
The measure is designed to ensure lower-wage workers in industries such as fast-food and retail can earn what is known as a “living wage” that covers cover basic needs like food, rent, health care and transportation.
Known as the Raise Chicago Coalition, the group says it has collected enough signatures to place the referendum on the March ballot in 102 precincts in 20 wards within the city limits. The coalition includes Action Now, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.
The referendum comes as increased media attention and a nationwide movement is growing around the issue of increasing wages of service workers, and the potential need to raise the minimum wage locally and nationally.
In recent weeks, a series of strikes and protests have taken place across the country, particularly in front of well-known companies such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, along with retailers such as Sears and Whole Foods.
Advocates for the Chicago ballot initiative point out that the referendum specifically targets companies that make over $50 million in profits during a tax year, thereby excluding smaller employers who may be more burdened by the need to increase wages for workers.
Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour nationally and $8.25 an hour in Illinois. A 40-hour workweek at the national minimum wage equates to $15,000 a year, while the government defines the poverty level for a family of four at $23,050.
The Chicago effort also comes in the wake of a series of notable victories for higher-wage advocates in other cities. Residents near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) voted to raise the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers from $9.19 an hour to $15 an hour, while voters in Washington, DC, Maryland, New Jersey and elsewhere have all recently approved in creases in the minimum wage.
Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now, told Ward Room the time is right for Chicago.
“This is something that’s a long time overdue,” she said. “Increasingly, the minimum wage is not enough for people to survive on. Coming off of victory in several different cities, we recognize the opportunity municipalities have to do right by their lowest wage workers and challenge companies that make billions and billions of dollars off the backs of poverty wages. We’re excited to give the voters in these precincts in March a chance to show that, yes, in fact Chicago does deserve a raise."
The measure will only appear on the ballot in the 102 precincts in which enough signatures were collected to qualify.