Action Now along with other community groups, working families and labor allies delivered petitions to the Chicago Board of Elections on December 16, 2013 to place a non-binding advisory referendum on the March ballot to establish a city minimum wage.
The question before voters on Tuesday, March 18th will be whether major corporations and businesses that make over $50 million in profits in the last tax year, such as Walmart or McDonald’s, should pay a living wage of $15 per hour to their workers. Small businesses that make less than $50 million per year would not be impacted.
The grassroots movement to gather signatures to place the advisory referendum on the March ballot was spearheaded by the Raise Chicago Coalition. Along with community volunteers, low-wage workers, and working families, the coalition includes Action Now, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside, and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.
“There is a direct link between poverty and increases in violence and crime, as well as decreases in educational achievement. When workers make a living wage, it helps build up the whole community,” said Gloria Warner, President of Action Now and a resident of Englewood. “I am absolutely confident that working families and communities across Chicago will lift our voices and vote for this proposed referendum in huge numbers.”
As proof of the fair wage movement’s success, and its potential, residents near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) voted to raise the minimum wage for hospitality and transportation workers from $9.19 an hour to $15 an hour. In addition, Washington D.C. raised the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour. Next door in Maryland, Prince George County and Montgomery County both dramatically increased the minimum hourly wage to $11.50 by 2017 from the current $7.25.
In 2012 voters in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico all approved wage hikes. Finally, in New Jersey’s state elections in 2013, that also saw Gov. Chris Christie reelected, voters overwhelmingly supported raising the state minimum wage to $8.25 and amended the state Constitution to tie future wage increases to inflation.
Chicago’s referendum for a $15 an hour minimum wage follows the unprecedented national day of strikes on December 5th in over 100 cities where low-wage workers protested hugely profitable corporations to demand a $15 an hour living wage.
"You cannot survive on $8.25 an hour," said Silvia Torres member of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and resident of the 15th ward. "Allowing highly profitable companies to pay poverty wages is an issue for the whole community. Poverty leads to violence. Therefore, we can't afford to not raise the minimum wage to $15."
As a point of reference, the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator,measures the income a family needs in order to attain a secure yet modest living standard by estimating community-specific costs of housing, food, child care, transportation, health care, other necessities, and taxes. In the Chicago area, a single parent with one child would have to make $53,168 a year. Currently, a full-time minimum wage worker only makes $17,000 a year.
And a 2012 report released by Women Employed and Action Now Institute revealed that Chicago’s low-wage workforce has grown by 30% since 2001. The majority (57.4%) of Chicago’s low-wage workers are over the age of 30, and one in three (34.7%) have attended at least some college. Over half, (56.7%) live in households receiving all of their income from low-wage jobs.
- NBC Chicago, "Minimum Wage Question Set to Appear on March Ballots"
- Chicago Reporter, "Chicago labor activists seek voters’ support for raising the minimum wage"
- DNA Info, "$15-an-Hour Minimum Wage Gets Advisory Spot on Some Ballots"
- Gaper's Block, "Ballot Proposal Would Encourage Raising Minimum Wage in Chicago"
- Progress Illinois, "Chicagoans Push For Ballot Referendums On Ames Middle School, Minimum Wage (UPDATED)"
- In These Times, "$15 Minimum Wage To Appear on Chicago Ballots"