Maria Garcia, 37, came to the United States from Mexico when she was 16. She came, as she says, to work. Six years ago she left her husband and started supporting her six children on her own while earning a little more than minimum wage. Garcia’s story illustrates what it looks like to support a family on less than $10 an hour working more than full-time.
Chicago on Tuesday joined Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and a number of other major cities in passing legislation to raise the minimum wage beyond the current federal level of $7.25 an hour. Proponents of a minimum wage increase said it would be a life-changing boon for low-income working families, young people and other low-wage workers. Opponents said the measure would send businesses fleeing to cities where labor costs are lower. Chicago aldermen voted overwhelmingly in favor of raising the city’s $8.25 minimum wage to $13 over the next five years during a special City Council meeting called by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Only five of the city’s 50 alderman voted no.
Hundreds gathered outside the McDonald’s in Chatham this morning to strike for a $15 minimum wage. Members of various groups including Action Now, Arise Chicago, and Chicago Jobs with Justice, came to support the Fight for 15 campaign. More than a dozen were peacefully arrested after blockading 87th Street. [Photos by Michelle Kanaar]
Fast food and retail workers — those who’ve campaigned for two years for a $15-an-hour minimum wage — weren’t the only ones expressing dissatisfaction with Mayor Emanuel’s proposed halfway measure on the issue. Restaurant workers, a huge group in a fast-growing industry, say they and other tipped workers got an even worse deal. Reacting to Emanuel’s endorsement of a mayoral commission’s recommendation to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2018, Nazly Damasio of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago said, “Workers can’t wait four more years; they need a living wage now.” The group plans to continue taking its demand directly to corporations. “We’re not going to wait any more for politicians to hand out these mediocre results,” she said.
We have strong leaders around here. I’m talking about Rahm Emanuel and Mike Madigan, who run the show in their respective political fiefdoms, the Chicago City Council and the Illinois House of Representatives. But when they refuse to lead on issues like a living wage or the state budget, it starts to seem like we could do with a bit more democracy and a bit less dictatorship. In Chicago, living wage advocates were “on Cloud Nine” on Wednesday when 21 aldermen signed on to an ordinance to establish a city minimum wage of $15 an hour, said Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now. “We didn’t anticipate that level of support,” she said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has tried to get in front of the groundswell of concern over income inequality by backing a hike in the minimum wage. But with a record of contracting out good-paying jobs and shunting aside efforts to help impacted workers, he is playing catch-up as his reelection campaign looms.
Facing the possibility of serious challenge by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Emanuel badly needs to bolster his sagging populist credibility — and if he aspires to a national profile among urban leaders, he needs to get with the zeitgeist. Now groups representing low-wage workers are giving him another chance. Appearing with several aldermen at City Hall on Tuesday, members of the Raise Chicago Coalition called for a city ordinance to enact a proposal approved in an advisory referendum by 87 percent of voters in 104 precincts: requiring companies with $50 million or more in annual revenues to pay a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Up till now, the mayor’s policies have pushed down many workers’ pay.