Campaigning for a higher minimum wage in Illinois, Stand Up! Chicago joined forces with grassroots organizations from across the city for a series of rallies and marches as a part of the National Minimum Wage Day of Action.
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. Yet, at least 400 protesters converged at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Tuesday to support SB 1565, legislation that would raise Illinois’ minimum wage, and to speak of the challenges low-wage jobs present.
“It’s time for a change, we need to get paid the right way,” said Leticia Rodriguez, 36, a five-year Walmart employee who was laid off last year when Walmart’s warehouse operator, Schneider Logistics in Elmwood, Illinois, cancelled the contract with the temp agency that employed 65 workers. Rodriguez, who has two daughters, said she is approximately $170,000 in debt.
Rodriguez participated in “Minimum Wage Limbo,” a game played throughout the day, created by Stand Up! Chicago, intended to illustrate “how low greedy corporations can go.”
“I’m just trying to find a way to make ends meet,” she said. “I have a mortgage, bills and a family to provide for, it’s time for us to raise the minimum wage so that people can live.”
Here's a look at the low-wage limbo the demonstrators did outside of Walmart:
Alongside demonstrations in Philadelphia, Miami and New York City, Chicago’s Minimum Wage Day of Action kicked off with an 8am trolley tour of low-wage employers owned by Bain Capital, the company founded by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee in 2012’s presidential election. Protests continued throughout the day following the trolley tour, and chants of “we can’t survive on $8.25” could be heard well after 6pm.
“Minimum wage jobs mean underfunded communities, and a lower tax base; minimum wage jobs mean you can’t develop as a community, as a state, or as a country,” said Mark Meinster, campaign director for Warehouse Workers for Justice, at the 2pm rally outside Walmart.
“Walmart made half-a-trillion dollars in profit last year, so this is a company that can clearly afford to pay a living wage, and the fact that they don’t is absolutely shameless,” he said.
At 4pm, protesters gathered at the Thompson Center, Chicago Public Schools Headquarters and Capital Grill Restaurant for separate rallies.
At the Thompson Center, the office of Gov. Pat Quinn sent a representative to hear the challenges of making ends meet on minimum wage salaries. “The governor appreciates everyone coming out to make sure their voices are heard, people need to start telling their government what they need. Elections are coming up and people who show up are the ones who will decide what is going to happen,” said Andrew Mason, a Quinn spokesman.
Across the street at City Hall, five representatives from Service Employees International Union (SEIU)* met with Tom Alexander, spokesman for the office of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to speak in favor of the Responsible Bidders Ordinance, which would provide protections for worker retention, wages and benefits.
The separate rallies housed protesters from more than 10 groups, including Action Now, Arise Chicago, SEIU, Chicago Jobs With Justice, Chicago Neighborhoods First and Stand Up! Chicago, the labor organization advocacy group that arranged the day’s events. Thus, several messages and agendas were present. However, at 5pm each demonstration marched to the Aon Center, where the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce was targeted and raising the minimum wage retained focus.
“One of the biggest impediments we see to development in Chicago’s neighborhoods is the expansion of big box retailers… There’s a fable about retailers coming in and saving us with jobs, when in fact the jobs that they’re providing are poverty jobs,” said Janel Bailey, campaign coordinator for Chicago Neighborhoods First.
“Raising the minimum wage in Illinois is one of the best ways that we can help people to access things in their community, because when you pay people a living wage they have enough money to invest in the community and support local businesses,” she said.
Here more from the ralliers calling for an increase in the minimum wage:
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.