While working roughly 60 hours a week at two jobs, Ovadhwah McGee says he lives paycheck to paycheck and struggles to pay his bills each month.
McGee, a single father living in the South Side Woodlawn neighborhood with his 13-year-old son, said he works as an in-home care worker and a certified nursing assistant, making an hourly wage of $12.35 and $13.50, respectively.
“I need to be able to put food on my table without having to go to food pantries. I need to be able to work one job so I can actually spend time with my son,” he said, adding that he can’t afford to get his car fixed and thus spends two hours on public transit every day to get to and from work.
“I’m here fighting for a $15 minimum wage in the city of Chicago because I need it, because my son needs it and because working families across the city need it,” McGee said.
McGee and roughly two-dozen protesters, members of the Raise Chicago coalition, rallied to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour Thursday morning. The ralliers called on two Chicago aldermen — Alds. Patrick O’Connor (40th) and James Cappleman (46th) — to support their cause by protesting outside of their offices. The activists also demonstrated outside of a North Side McDonald’s restaurant.
Illinois’ minimum wage, which is $8.25 an hour, provides a full-time worker with an annual salary of $17,160 before taxes. The federal hourly minimum wage, which hasn’t been adjusted since 2009, is $7.25.
“Aldermen who are elected to represent us in Chicago seem more interested in representing big corporations like McDonald’s,” McGee said. “They might be concerned about money they’re getting from big corporations, but I’m here to say this isn’t an issue of money. It’s an issue of moral values.”
Shortly afterwards, the mayor formed the Minimum Wage Working Group, which was tasked with researching and gathering public comment about increasing the city's minimum wage. The task force recommended that the city bump the minimum wage up to $13 an hour by the end of 2018 and on July 30, Emanuel, along with 25 aldermen, introduced an ordinance that models the group’s recommendations.
Under the mayor-appointed task force’s proposal, the city's minimum wage for non-tipped employees would increase by $1.25 in each of the next three years and $1 in 2018 to hit the $13 level. The city's minimum wage would be adjusted each year after 2018 to keep pace with inflation. The tipped minimum wage, which is currently $4.95 at the state level, would be lifted by $1 to $5.95 over two years and indexed to inflation after that.
“I see the effects of low wages, they show up as poverty, foreclosures, crime and violence,” Jean Mayor, a resident of O’Connor’s Northwest Side ward, said during a demonstration outside the alderman’s office. “Large corporations can afford to pay $15 an hour now.”
Mayor said O’Connor, chairman of the Workforce Development and Audit Committee, should consider the $15 minimum wage ordinance and hold hearings on the pending legislation. The ordinance was referred to his committee, but no hearings have been scheduled. The alderman has co-sponsored the Minimum Wage Working Group’s legislation.
“The people of Chicago can’t afford to wait. Working families can’t get by on the current minimum wage,” Mayor said. “Working people who earn a living wage have more money to spend, this grows the local economy. A $15 minimum wage could lift families out of poverty, which would also decrease crime and violence.”
Mayor delivered a letter to O’Connor’s office, urging him to hold a hearing on the $15 minimum wage ordinance.
During the protest outside Cappleman’s office, the alderman came outside and addressed the demonstrators.
The alderman of the North Side ward said he is in favor of a $15 minimum wage.
“When I make any decisions, it’s based on three different factors. One, it must be fair, and in this country and actually, across the world, the rich really are getting richer and the poor are getting more poor and 40 percent of the wealth is owned by one or two percent. That cannot be sustainable.
"Two, I want to make sure we look at the pros and cons of this decision. With any good decision there are also going to be negative repercussions, so I want to make sure the pros outweigh the negatives. From the information that I have, this looks good.
"And third, it needs to be based on evidence and what the law allows,” Cappleman said.
On Wednesday, Cappleman issued a statement indicating he supports the wage hike.
"I have and will continue to support the $15/hour minimum wage ordinance," the alderman's statement said. "Chicago's working families deserve a fair and decent wage. Increasing the minimum wage will only improve the city's economy."
Nonetheless, the alderman has not yet signed on as a co-sponsor of either piece of legislation pending in the Chicago City Council.
Click through to view scenes from Thursday’s actions.
During the March 18 primary election, Chicago voters overwhelmingly supported a non-binding ballot referendum to increase the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour for employees of companies with annual revenues over $50 million. The referendum appeared on the ballot in 103 city precincts, garnering support from about 87 percent of voters.
In Cappleman’s 46th ward, roughly 78 percent of voters supported the referendum.
“Aldermen, it’s time you did your duty to help your constituents, the workers who make the city work,” McGee said. “If you want a city that truly works for everyone, it’s time you stood with us and standing with us means fighting for $15. Because $15 is truly a living wage.”