Hundreds of Chicagoans marched down the Magnificent Mile Thursday, chanting, carrying signs, and demanding a higher wage for downtown’s service industry and retail workers.
Part of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago’s “Fight For 15” campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, the protest started with a 4 p.m. rally at Cityfront Plaza. As protesters chanted “we can’t survive on $8.25,” minimum wage employees spoke of economic hardships and community leaders spoke in support of raising wages for downtown’s food and retail employees.
“I have a step-child to look after, medical bills I can’t afford and student loans I have to pay off, but I’m not making enough money,” said Robert Wilson Jr., 25, a seven-year employee of the McDonald’s on Navy Pier. Wilson makes $8.35 per hour.
“We work hard for little pay and we deserve way more than what we’re getting,” he said.
Illinois has the fifth highest minimum wage in the nation, at $8.25 per hour, higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, last adjusted in 2009. Even still, approximately 200 protesters marched down the Magnificent Mile, ending at the Water Tower Place, to campaign for higher wages.
Illinois’ Self-Sufficiency Standard, a tool that calculates what a family needs to get by with basic necessities, indicates that a single parent with one child needs to earn approximately $17.24 per hour to sustain their family without public or private assistance.
“Every day tens of thousands of workers stream out of our neighborhoods to work downtown and every year their work brings over $4 billion through downtown cash registers,” said Liz Muñoz, assistant priest at St. James Cathedral, at the rally. “Every week workers return to their communities with paychecks too small to provide even a subsistence living for themselves and their families.”
Muñoz read from a letter written for
the Greater North
Michigan Avenue Association (GNMAA), the Magnificent
Mile’s business association, calling for an employee wage increase to $15 per
hour. The letter was supported by organizations such as Stand Up! Chicago,
Chicago Coalition for
the Homeless, the Chicago Teachers Union,
Coalition, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU*).
Grant DePorter, chairman of the GNMAA Board and chief executive officer of Harry Caray’s, was not available to receive the letter personally. Instead, Muñoz left it in the hands of District 18 Police Commander Bill Dunn, in the hopes DePorter and other executives from GNMAA would receive it.
“If we are serious about fighting the interconnected problems of poverty, crime and low student achievement, we must ensure that downtown retail and food workers are paid a livable wage,” said Muñoz while she read from the letter.
A representative from the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Here's more from the Fight for 15 rally:
In a recently released report, Stand Up! Chicago found that if Chicago’s 50 biggest publically traded retail and restaurant corporations raised wages to $15 per hour it would cost $103 million annually.
The report also reveals that the chief executive officers for Chicago’s 50 biggest publically traded retail and restaurant corporations average $8.3 million per year in annual compensation, an hourly rate of more than $4,011.
“Not only can these corporations afford it, but this would have a stimulus effect,” said Elizabeth Parisian, policy director for Stand Up! Chicago. “Folks would be able to shop in the stores where they work, so it would increase sales.”
Parisian said there’s “no way” raising employees’ wages could be bad for business for the downtown retailers.
“If they paid their workers enough, they’d be able to lead a decent middle-class life, and the economy would grow and their businesses would do better."
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.