Community activists protested outside Ald. Will Burns’ (4th) office Thursday morning, calling on the South Side alderman to support a $15 minimum wage in Chicago.
“We are tired of politicians, like Will Burns, ignoring the voice of the people,” said Adeline Bracey, a member of Action Now.
Bracey was one of roughly 50 protesters to march outside Burns’ Bronzeville neighborhood office, at 435 E. 35th St., chanting, “What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!” The state of Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25, while the federal minimum is $7.25.
Burns was co-chair of the mayoral-appointed Minimum Wage Working Group, which was tasked with researching and gathering public comment about increasing the city's minimum wage. The mayor formed the commission after a group of council members introduced an ordinance in May, co-sponsored by 21 aldermen, seeking to hike Chicago's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018.
The Minimum Wage Working Group suggested bumping the city's minimum wage to $13 an hour by the end of 2018 and on July 30, Emanuel, along with 25 other aldermen, introduced an ordinance that models the task force’s recommendations.
Under the pending ordinance, 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.
But Tuesday’s protesters say that, by supporting a $13 minimum wage instead of $15, Burns and other aldermen are not listening to their constituents.
“Alderman Will Burns has repeatedly gone against what the community has asked him to do in order to serve the interest of Mayor Emanuel ... and whoever else supports his political career,” said Dennis Sanders, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO).
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 the 4th ward, roughly 93 percent of voters supported the referendum.
“If the overwhelming majority in [Burns’] ward want a $15 an hour minimum wage, and there is an ordinance in the city council calling for that minimum wage, wouldn’t you think he would automatically sign on to that ordinance,” asked Bracey. “Well, Alderman Will Burns decided to say no to democracy and instead work with Mayor Emanuel to create a much weaker ordinance that leaves out thousands of workers and keeps the rest at poverty level.”
Here's for more from Bracey, Sanders and other protesters Tuesday.
In an interview with Progress Illinois, Burns said a $13 minimum wage would soften the blow to small businesses while still improving the lives of thousands in the city.
“We came up with a number that will give 410,000 Chicagoans a raise,” he said. “I personally supported $15 an hour—that’s where I wanted to go and I thought we might be able to get there—but I was really concerned about the cost, particularly to small businesses, of going to $15 an hour.”
He added that he’s gotten a positive response from constituents following the recommendations from the Minimum Wage Working Group.
“People perceive a $13 wage as a huge step forward for the city of Chicago,” he said.
While both ordinances to raise the city’s minimum wage have been referred to committee, 26- ear-old Brandon Askew said he struggles every day to provide for his family while working full time at a factory earning $8.25 per hour.
“It’s rough when you need Pull-Ups, and you’ve got to pay for transportation, and you’ve got to pay for rent, and you get a ticket, then you don’t know how you’re going to eat next week,” he said, adding that he is the sole provider for his wife and 4 year-old daughter.
Askew, who lives in the South Side's Englewood neighborhood, said things like haircuts are luxuries he can’t often afford while living on the current minimum wage.
“I can’t afford any luxuries, it’s hard. I have to borrow money from my parents, from my family members, just to make it throughout the week and I’m still in debt,” he said. “It makes no sense for me to work hard and live in debt. If I work a 40-hour week, just like the next human being, why should I have to live in debt?”