Nearly 100 fast food workers and community activists picketed outside the McDonald's restaurant adjacent to the Chicago Board of Trade to show solidarity with workers in New York who are testifying at the last wage board hearing called by the state's governor, Andrew Cuomo, to recommend an increase to the minimum wage.
The demonstrators also called on Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to put a stop to proposed state budget cuts that would impact home and child care workers.
Holding signs that read "New York, Chicago has your back" and "We need raises, not cuts," demonstrators spoke passionately about how a wage increase to $15 an hour would improve their lives -- and how Rauner's proposed budget cuts could harm working families.
"We are here to support New York workers because if New York wins $15, we will also win," said Dora Pena, a McDonald's employee who has worked for the company for eight years and makes $8.65 an hour. "We're also here to tell the world that what Governor Rauner is doing to our families isn't right. We need raises, not cuts."
Dozens of fast food workers testified today in front of a three-member panel appointed by Cuomo on the issue of raising the minimum wage for fast food workers, which is currently $8.75 an hour in New York. According to the New York Times, Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have both supported increasing the minimum wage, but attempts were thwarted by the state's legislature. Cuomo created the panel to work around it.
Chicago workers say that recent successes in cities like Seattle and Los Angeles - both of which raised their minimum wages to $15 an hour - give them hope that their fight will succeed. "When they win it means we're one step closer to victory for Chicago, Illinois, and the rest of the country," said Connie Bennet, who has worked at the McDonald's on 83rd Street and Ashland Avenue for eight years.
"I make a nickel over minimum wage," said Bennett. "If I pay my rent [and] pay my light and gas bill, I can barely buy food."
Bennett, who lives about a mile from the restaurant which she works, said that because of her current financial situation, she can only afford to ride the bus to work every other week.
"I have to be at work at 4:00 a.m., so I leave my house by myself at 3:30 in the morning and walk."
The demonstrators also said that proposed state budget cuts would harm low-wage working families.
"A lot of my colleagues child care costs went up and they're having to make hard choices every day," said Pena. "Do they pay for child care or their rent? Rauner is cutting everything that helps us get by."
If Rauner and state lawmakers cannot agree on a budget by July 1, the administration has said it's prepared to reduce spending on the Child Care Assistance Program, the Community Care Program, Medicaid, and various other social services that many low-wage workers rely on.
"What is a parent to do who has children over the age of 5 and wants child care," asked Janice Boling, a child care provider from Englewood. "Because of the budget cuts, these children would not be eligible. What is a parent to do when offered a job and [they] need to enroll their children into my daycare, but because of the budget proposal, they would end up on a waiting list?"
Bennett, who relies on state-funded medical care because she cannot afford private health insurance, said the budget cuts would adversely affect her health.
"I'm almost a senior citizen and getting ready to retire, we don't have any benefits, and now he wants to take even more," she said.