Nearly 100 fast food workers and community activists picketed outside the McDonald's restaurant adjacent to the Chicago Board of Trade to show solidarity with workers in New York who are testifying at the last wage board hearing called by the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, to recommend an increase to the minimum wage.
The demonstrators also called on Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to put a stop to proposed state budget cuts that would impact home and child care workers.
Holding signs that read "New York, Chicago has your back" and "We need raises, not cuts," demonstrators spoke passionately about how a wage increase to $15 an hour would improve their lives -- and how Rauner's proposed budget cuts could harm working families.
Many full-service restaurant industry workers are forced to seek public aid to supplement their low wages and lack of benefits, and that leaves U.S. taxpayers with a $9.4 billion tab each year.
That's according to a recent report by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). The restaurant worker advocacy group found that nearly half of the more than 4 million full-service restaurant workers live in households enrolled in at least one public assistance program.
Of that $9.4 billion, $1.4 billion represents the public cost of low-end pay and benefits provided at the country's five largest full-service restaurant companies, which collectively earned $704 million in profits and paid their chief executives $27 million in the last year alone, according to ROC.
Experts from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) argue that the U.S. economy could well afford a federal minimum wage increase to $12 an hour by 2020 -- a proposal that could impact nearly 38 million workers.
EPI researchers make their case for a $12 minimum wage in a report released Thursday, the same day the new "Raise the Wage Act" was introduced to Congress by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA,3).
Under the Raise the Wage Act, the federal hourly minimum wage would go up gradually from the current figure of $7.25 to $12 by 2020. Raise the Wage Act proponents are taking to social media Thursday afternoon for a "Twitterstorm" using the hashtags #RaiseTheWage, #12by2020 and #1FairWage.
"If you go to work and work hard for 40 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty in America," said U.S. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), who joined Murray and Scott in introducing the bill. "The Raise the Wage Act will increase wages for 38 million workers -- more than one in four -- and lift millions out of poverty. In Illinois alone, 1.6 million workers -- 28 percent of the state's workforce -- will see an average increase in wages of $3,200 a year. That helps families get off government support programs and give them more money to spend and put back into our economy."