Quick Hit Ellyn Fortino Tuesday September 29th, 2015, 3:56pm

O'Hare Workers Join Fight For $15; Fast Food Laborers Bring Wage Campaign To Chicago Suburbs

The local Fight for $15 movement continues to gain steam as an increasing number of Illinois low-wage workers join the call for better pay and the right to unionize without retaliation.

Initially spearheaded by fast food workers, the national Fight for $15 campaign has since picked up support from service employees from other industries. On Tuesday, the movement welcomed security officers, janitors and passenger service workers at O'Hare International Airport, who are joining the campaign due to their "poverty wages."

O'Hare workers rallied with their supporters outside the airport Tuesday morning to officially kick off their entrance into the Fight for $15 movement.

"Working hard at O'Hare while making poverty wages doesn't fly," said Jackie Chacko, a passenger service worker at O'Hare. "I'm fighting for $15 and union rights because my family and I depend on it."

Organizing with the help of SEIU* under the name Airport Workers United, airport workers from across the country have already joined the push for a $15 minimum wage and union rights. The nationwide campaign has thus far resulted in 15,000 airport workers receiving wage increases and over 45,000 airport workers gaining other job improvements, according to Airport Workers United. 

"Our economy is creating jobs, but we need to ensure they're good ones," said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. "O'Hare service workers cannot support themselves or their families on poverty wages. By joining the Fight for $15 movement, these workers are standing up and taking control of their economic futures. No worker at O'Hare should be forced to live on taxpayer-funded public assistance while the airport and airlines rake in billions every year."

In addition to airport employees, home care and nursing home workers are among the newest members of the Fight for $15 movement as the campaign for better pay and working conditions continues to expand to industries beyond fast food.

Illinois nursing home workers, represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois, are set to rally Tuesday afternoon outside an Evergreen Park assisted living facility as part of a Fight for $15 demonstration. They plan to call attention to the earnings of nursing home workers, who make an average of $17,500 per year, according to the union.

And the O'Hare and Evergreen Park actions are not the only local Fight for $15 developments this week.

An Oak Park Village Board meeting was the scene of a fast food protest on Monday evening, as the Fight for $15 campaign spreads to Chicago's suburbs. At the board meeting, suburban fast food workers and their supporters called on Oak Park officials to boost the minimum wage in the town. 

Opponents of an increased minimum wage argue that it could lead to job losses and higher prices for consumers. 

The minimum wage in Illinois, and Oak Park, is $8.25 an hour. The city of Chicago has a higher hourly minimum wage, thanks to an ordinance approved last year that raised it to $10 in July of this year. Under the ordinance, Chicago's minimum wage will go up gradually to $13 an hour by 2019.

Before they spoke about the minimum wage at the Oak Park Village Board meeting, the suburban fast food workers and their allies, including members of the faith community, protested outside an Oak Park McDonald's at 111 W. Madison St.

The local Fight for $15 events come on the heels of the $15 minimum wage victory for fast food workers in New York City earlier this month. On September 10, it was announced that New York will lift the hourly minimum wage to $15 for fast food workers in New York City by 2018 and statewide by 2021. 

Those at Monday's protest in Oak Park said Chicago and the surrounding suburbs should follow suit and enact a $15 minimum wage for workers in all industries. They held signs that said, "$8.25 is not enough. $10 is not enough. $15 in Chicago & in the suburbs."

Among the protesters was Anthony Kemp, who has worked at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Oak Park for the past nine years.

"As a 44-year-old man, making $8.25, living paycheck to paycheck and barely being able to survive just isn't right," he said. "I love to cook. I love what I do for a living. That's why we're calling for fair wages for fast food workers in Chicago's suburbs. From Oak Park to Cicero, to Sauk Village to Barrington Hills, we need this. That's why we're standing together in the suburbs and calling for $15. Suburban workers are struggling and we need higher wages so that we too can be part of the American dream."

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website. 

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