Hundreds of thousands of low-wage earners in Chicago – as well as their community supporters – celebrated a historic win Tuesday as the City Council boosted hourly pay to $13 and voted to include domestic workers in the increase, grassroots organizations said.
Following the vote, the Raise Chicago Coalition and their supporters sent a flurry of media statements marking what they dubbed a major victory for workers and their families in the country’s third-largest city. Chicago is home to about 2.7 million residents.
Starting in June, the city’s minimum wage will increase to $10. By 2019, the hourly rate will hit $13.
Organizations representing domestic workers in Chicago voiced particular happiness with the City Council vote because the law typically classifies a caregiver as the same as a babysitter, a category that is not protected under basic wage and labor standards that apply to most industries.
“This groundbreaking vote means that Chicago’s household workers will finally gain the same protections that most other workers have had for decades,” Myrla Baldonado, an organizer with Latino Union of Chicago and a domestic worker, said in a statement. “Domestic workers often go unrecognized, but the caring work that they do makes all other work possible.”
The push for higher minimum wages has swept cities and states across the country, especially as partisan differences in Congress have stalled legislation calling for better hourly pay. In Chicago, the mayor had lobbied for a $13 hourly wage and the City Council had backed an hourly pay rate of $15. Grassroots advocates say they are still aiming for a $15 minimum wage – something that fast-food workers and other low-wage earners nationwide have supported in recent years.
“This victory was hard fought, and it is a testament to the value of our coalition’s advocacy and work to deliver real results for working families,” Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now, said in a statement. “This is a win for, and by, the working families of this great city who came together and demanded change.”
That demand for change faced opposition from business, restaurant and retail groups and large corporations. Business groups have argued that a higher minimum wage would add more costs to their operations. Business and restaurant groups have given campaign contributions to elected officials in Chicago over the years, according to Grassroots Illinois Action, which supported the wage increase.
“This time, the power of money wasn’t enough to beat the power of people,” the organization said in a statement.
Overall, about 22 percent of Chicago residents live in poverty, according to the Census Bureau. Grassroots groups say higher wages can help workers pay their housing, food and health care bills and stimulate the economy through new spending.
For Robert Wilson Jr., who works at Target, the higher pay will be more significant than his hourly wage of $8.84. “A $13 minimum wage is going to make a big difference in my life and the lives of other workers, but we’re not done yet. This is one victory, but we’re going to be fighting for the next one – $15 an hour,” he said in a statement.
Anita Caballero, who represents Brighton Park Neighborhood Council as board president, looked at the higher wage and how it will help domestic workers and people living in the city’s neighborhoods. “Domestic workers need to earn a living to support their families and spend money in their own neighborhoods,” she said in a statement.
Grassroots Illinois Action Executive Director Amisha Patel framed the wage debate in Chicago in terms of politics. “In the past seven days, the mayor has shown us what is possible when he has the political will to make things happen. He could have given Chicago a raise years ago,” she said in a statement. “Chicago families need progress every year, not just during [an] election year.”
During the spring and summer, supporters of a $15 hourly wage attended public meetings with city leaders to let them know the importance of that amount to working families struggling with poverty. If Chicago does reach a $15 hourly wage, it would follow Seattle and San Francisco which have already approved that amount.
Grassroots groups who supported the wage hike expressed disappointment that domestic workers outside of Chicago but still in Illinois will not see their pay go up. Advocates also noted that tipped workers in Chicago will only see their hourly pay increase to $5.95.
“The City Council ordinance will improve conditions for workers, but it falls short of the $15 living wage that workers have been fighting for,” Eric Rodriguez, executive director of Latino Union, said in a statement. “It’s just the beginning of what we need in order to raise the floor for working families.”
The Raise Chicago Coalition also pointed out that the state House of Representatives might be considering a $10 minimum wage bill for Illinois. If that is approved, it could trigger “home rule” language, which would override the minimum wage increase approved by the Chicago City Council. Advocates said they will be monitoring what state lawmakers do in the coming days and weeks.
The state minimum wage is $8.25 per hour. Researchers at MIT have found that a living wage job in Chicago for one adult should pay $10.48 per hour. For a family of two adults and two kids, it should be $20.35 per hour.
Brad Wong is assistant news editor for Equal Voice News.
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