What’s at stake in Chicago’s Minimum Wage Struggle

Janah Bailey photo by Susy Schultz

Janah Bailey
photo by Susy Schultz

Janah Bailey works to survive, as she explains.  She works two fast food jobs so she can keep her family flourishing.

And she presents a powerfully personal case for boosting the minimum wage, a presentation the 21-year-old recently made at our media forum on low wage workers.

Her cause will be tested on March 18th when  a large number of Chicago neighborhoods will vote on a non-binding referendum to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour for workers at firms with over $50 million revenue.

It’s a timely issue and it clearly caught the attention of Fred Lowe of the Northstar News and Analysis, an  online newspaper aimed at covering the world of black men.

Read through Fred’s report, included here, and let’s talk about what more reporting you would like to see on this issue; what more news you need, and what, if any, of this kind of reporting you’ve already done.

If this is such an important issue, and so many are caught up on both sides of the fence about, we need to make sure we know what are the facts and what’s stake.

What, indeed, is stake? 

by Frederick H. Lowe
Residents in 103 Chicago precincts are scheduled to vote March 18 on a non-binding referendum to raise the minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to $15 per hour for city employees of large corporations, which backers say is a living wage that will help reduce crime.

The vote, which is expected to take place in 26 of the city’s Aldermantic wards, was announced Tuesday night at Columbia College during a panel discussion arranged by the Community Media Workshop, which works to diversify the voices in news and public debates.

The organization, which is headed by Susy Schultz, a veteran reporter, writer and editor, held the panel discussion for reporters from community newspapers to make them aware of the minimum wage vote so they would publish articles to inform their readers about the upcoming vote and the growing discussion about corporations paying workers a living wage.

Charles Brown, a board member for Action Now, a grassroots-community organization, told The NorthStar News & Analysis that if the non-binding referendum passes, there will be a vote on a binding referendum in all 2,069 of the city’s precincts. An Action Now spokesperson said there is a not a timeline for such a vote. The vote in the 103 precincts represents 5 percent of all of the city’s precincts.

During his enthusiastic presentation, Brown said all Chicago-area companies reporting $50 million a year should pay their workers $15 per hour. Brown, however, wasn’t specific about whether he meant $50 million a year in revenues or net income. It also wasn’t clear how many companies report $50 million a year and how many low-wage workers they employ.

A retired Chicago police officer, Brown said a $15 hourly wage constituted a living wage that would cut down much of the crime in  neighborhoods because many residents cannot live on Illinois’ minimum wage.  “They are not going to let their children starve,” he told the audience.

Action Now News, Action Now’s newspaper, quoted the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. The Economic Policy Institute, which is based in Washington, D.C., reported that a single parent with one child living in Chicago would have to earn $53,168 annually to live adequately. Full-time minimum-wage workers earn $17,000 a year.

Brown was a member of a program panel that included members from Fight for 15, Action Now, Heartland Alliance, Grassroots Collaborative, Warehouse Workers for Justice, Arise Chicago, Women Employed, Chicago Restaurant Opportunity Center, Services Employees International Union Health Care Illinois and Indiana, Jobs for Justice, Latino Union of Chicago, Chicago Workers Collaborative, Chicago Community and Workers’ Rights, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, and SOUL, a social-justice organization involved in campaigns on Chicago’s South Side and South Suburbs. Not all of the groups listed were represented on the panel. Some were included on a media-source list for low wage worker organizations and supporters.

In an article titled “The Metropolitan Geography of Low-Wage Work,” the Brookings Institution defined low-wage work as occupations in which, nationally, at least one-quarter of workers make less than $10 an hour. The major low-wage job categories include: sales and related occupations, food preparation and serving and related occupations, building and grounds, cleaning and maintenance occupations, personal care and service occupations and farming, fishing and forestry occupations.

Nationally, there were more than 23 million workers in the five low-wage sectors in the 94 largest metropolitan areas in 2012.

During the discussion, McDonalds Corp., which is based in Oak Brook, IL., was mentioned.  In another unrelated venue, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said he did not understand why McDonald’s could not raise the wages of its workers. 

Several months ago, McDonald’s issued a statement that said: “Employees are paid competitive wages and have access to a range of benefits to meet their individual needs.” Company officials added that if employees want to go from crew to management, they can take advantage of a variety of training and professional development opportunities.

Jorge Mujica, strategic campaigns organizer for Arise Chicago, which organizes car washers, immigrant workers and unionizes workers, charged that companies steal $1.1 million a day from employees by having them work off the clock.

Mujica added that Illinois is seriously understaffed in investigating complaints of this nature. The state has only seven inspectors and there are 145 wage-theft claims per week, he added.

Following the panel discussion, panel members sat at separate tables placed throughout the room to meet one-on-one with reporters.
Here’s the link to the Northstar News









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