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Series of Minimum Wage Protests
On 4th anniversary of last federal minimum wage increase, coalition urges employers and elected officials to raise wages; part of national day of action
CHICAGO - July 25 - A coalition of low-wage workers, community and labor groups marked a national day of action yesterday with a series of three protests calling for an increased minimum wage. Starting with a mid-afternoon rally at the Little Village Car Wash and moving to protests at the Little Village Walmart Neighborhood Market and at Capital Grille in the Magnificent Mile, hundreds of working Chicagoans called for an increased minimum wage to help the city’s struggling families.
The protest was part of a nationwide day of action to raise wages on the fourth anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase.
A recently released Family Budget Calculator from the Economic Policy Institute revealed that even the smallest minimum-wage families—single parents with one child—are over $30,000 in the red each year when it comes to meeting their basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and childcare.
“Many families are faring much worse,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, director of Arise Chicago, following her organization’s rally outside the Little Village Car Wash. “Many car wash workers are paid only tips—and not even the tipped minimum wage of $4.95. The minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage need to be higher, and both need to be enforced. That’s why workers at the Little Village Car Wash are voting to join a union.”
“Walmart and other big minimum wage employers in the city are making big profits but pay their workers poverty wages,” said Chicago Jobs With Justice director Susan Hurley at the second protest of the day. “It’s time they gave their workers a raise. We need more money in the hands of working families, not big corporations. That’s money that will be spent here in the community and that will lift up our local economy.”
Workers and community supporters spoke out at all three actions both for the need for a higher minimum wage, and against retaliation by employers.
“My coworkers and I work hard at Walmart to support ourselves and our families. As the largest private employer in the world, Walmart could single-handedly make a huge impact on our economy by paying its workers a decent wage," said Tyrone Robinson, a former Walmart worker who was fired after he started organizing for a living wage. "But when we speak out about issues like wages or defend our right to come together and speak out for change, Walmart illegally threatens and even fires us. Together, we're going to win back our jobs and change this company and our economy."
The coalition is calling on Congress and on state legislators to raise both the federal and state minimum wage. July 24th marks the fourth year that the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at $7.25 per hour, which translates to just $15,000 per year for a full-time worker. If the federal minimum wage had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.71. The Illinois minimum wage is a dollar higher than the minimum, but still far below the amount families need to survive—especially in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Outside The Capital Grille, a restaurant owned by Darden Restaurants, protestors spoke out about the role of corporate greed in motivating large and highly profitable corporations to fight increases to the minimum wage. “Darden is the largest full-service restaurant company in the world,” said Astar Herndon, policy and research coordinator for Restaurant Opportunities Center. “Darden has independently lobbied against an increase to the minimum wage. Not only have front-line workers come forward and made claims of wage theft, but Darden actively lobbying to undermine working families.”