Chicago workers braved frigid temperatures and a strong wind Tuesday to make their voices heard by downtown businesses offering low wages and the impact that has on the violence plaguing their communities.
Organized by the nascent Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, about 40 current and former employees of downtown businesses marched from the St. James Cathedral on 65 E. Huron to the Westin Chicago River North Hotel, where the business group Greater North Michigan Avenue Association was holding its annual meeting. Protestors held placards saying “Poverty Wages Kill” and “Low Wages = Lost Lives.” Protestors were interviewed by Univision.
The march was held in conjunction with the release of a report by advocacy group Stand Up! Chicago analyzing the links between low wages and violent crime in the city.
“We are asking the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association to meet with workers at the bargaining table to raise wages,” said Catherine Murrell, communications coordinator at Stand Up! Chicago.
The report’s findings note that the majority of increases in violent crime can be explained by downward wage trends and that a one percent increase in wealth inequality leads to a 3.6 percent increase in the homicide rate for a population, which help explains Chicago’s crime problems given that one quarter of all Chicago residents live below the federal poverty threshold.
Demanding to be heard
Once at the hotel, the protestors stormed past hotel security, demanding that an association representative hear the group's desire for a meeting between association officials and the workers' committee within two weeks to discuss wages. Phil Levin, the association’s planning director, briefly met with the protestors before they exited the hotel and gathered outside its entrance for a candlelight vigil, tearfully telling stories of neighborhood friends killed by gun violence.
“We want to talk with the association so they can become part of the solution,” Lorgio Velez, a 19-year-old Chicago native and former employee at the McDonald’s at 10 E Chicago told Progress Illinois. “I have had friends killed by gang violence.”
In addition to violence, Stand Up! Chicago points out that raising wages could generate $179 million in economic activity for the city. The worker's advocates are calling for an hourly pay of $15.
A founding member of Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, Amie Crawford is a former interior designer forced into food service by the economic downturn. She is now earning minimum wage working at Protein Bar, located at 235 S. Franklin St.
“It is our hope that the association will join us in bettering their employees’ lives. These employees work hard at the businesses on the Magnificent Mile and we feel they deserve a living wage,” Crawford told Progress Illinois.
One of the challenges Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago faces is worker apathy. Although Robert Wilson Jr., received a promotion and $0.25 raise from his employer, the McDonald’s at Navy Pier, after joining the union, he said most of his co-workers have not yet joined.
“They make excuses, they let the other ones do the dirty work for them,” Wilson told Progress Illinois.