coronavirus illinois

Restaurant Workers Bring Push for Higher Wages to Rush Street Gathering

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Chicago area restaurant workers gathered near several popular dining establishments on Rush Street, calling attention to their fight for a $15 minimum wage.

Christine Thurman, one of the workers taking part in Wednesday’s gathering, said that she will not go back to work unless wages and other benefits are improved.

“I will not go back to work due to the low wages, and no benefits,” she said.

The workers received support from several elected city leaders, including Chicago Ald. Jeanette B. Taylor.

“People sitting around here are uncomfortable,” she said. “You’ll continue to be uncomfortable until the people that serve you get a living wage.”

According to the group One Fair Wage, 53% of workers in a recent survey say they are considering leaving their restaurant jobs, with the overwhelming majority, 75%, of those workers citing low wages and tips.

The group says 44% of those workers surveyed had concerns about COVID-19 safety, and 35% cited hostility and harassment from customers.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, who also joined in the gathering, echoed those concerns in remarks to assembled workers.

“Now that the economy is opening up, (restaurant owners are saying) ‘come back to work and continue to risk your health and not get benefits,’” he said.

Sam Toia, President and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, said in a statement that increasing the minimum wage would actually harm workers, slashing hours and jeopardizing jobs during the shaky recovery from the pandemic.

“Restaurants have been decimated by COVID-19. Up to 20% of restaurants may not reopen, and the industry lost approximately 100,000 jobs over the past year,” he said. “Mandating another wage increase would jeopardize jobs and employee hours, as neighbourhood restaurants throughout our 77 communities are barely hanging on as it is.”

Toia also said that workers “typically make far beyond the minimum wage,” and that the association has worked in the past to boost wages, including in its support of the minimum wage ordinance passed in 2019.

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