Calls to raise the state’s minimum wage were heard throughout the streets of Chicago’s downtown area Thursday, as members of a local community group picketed outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant alleging its crew employees did not earn enough in order to keep up with rising living expenses.
About 25 members of the community organization Action Now took part in the rally, which was held near the corner of State and Lake Streets, as demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans similar to what has been seen over the past year at a typical Occupy Chicago protest.
The group said the state’s minimum wage of $8.25 an hour did not constitute a “livable” wage, and only helped to keep low-wage workers impoverished.
“We all have to stick together and rally together when things, you now, are not right you have to speak out say something about it,” explained protester Zana Marino, who said she currently earned minimum wage from her job as a waitress. “It affects me, but I know it affects other people more harshly – that’s why I am here today.”
Here’s more from Marino as she talked about the some of the problems facing many minimum wage earners:
The rally was in part a build-up toward next week’s National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage scheduled for July 24, which is expected to be a catalyst for a number of rallies in cities across the country intended to call on the federal government to raise the national minimum wage.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Illinois, along with Connecticut, Nevada and Washington D.C. has the fourth highest minimum wage in the country, a dollar more than the federal rate of $7.25 an hour. The state with the highest minimum wage is Washington at $9.04 an hour, also making it the only state to go above $9.
Raising the federal minimum wage to $9.50 was one of the items a newly-elected Pres. Barack Obama in 2008 expressed he wanted to address, but three years later the rate remains the same. In fact, it was legislation in 2007 passed by a then Democratically-controlled congress and signed by Pres. George W. Bush that saw the minimum wage eventually rise to its current rate, which didn’t go into effect until July 2009.
A raise to the minimum wage was even supported – albeit briefly – by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who in January reportedly advocated adjusting the rate with increases in the Consumer Price Index. After receiving criticism by a number of conservatives, Romney has since changed his stance and now flatly opposes an increase, as was shown in a video produced in March by the National Employment Law Project Action Fund.
In Illinois, the issue has continued to spark debate among lawmakers, with supporters contending an increase is needed to help low-wage workers better meet rising living costs, while critics have argued a minimum wage increase would be detrimental to many small businesses, and negatively affect their ability to create jobs.