Jobs With Justice holds rally to raise minimum wage

By Camille Murray

A small crowd gathered on the corner of Neil Street and Kirby Avenue on Friday, braving the rain and cold temperatures to rally in support of higher pay for fast-food workers.

During the rally, which took place at 5 p.m. near a local McDonald’s restaurant, protestors held up signs that displayed phrases such as “Fight for $15 wages” and “We’re not lovin’ it.” The crowd also chanted sayings, including “overworked and underpaid, we demand a living wage.” 

The rally was sponsored by the local chapter of Jobs With Justice, a coalition organized to help with issues concerning workers’ rights. It was one of many protest demonstrations held in almost 200 cities this past week to increase minimum wage. 

The rally was part of a movement demanding that fast-food workers be paid $15 wages and be granted the right to form a union without interference from employers, said Ricky Baldwin, co-president of the Central Illinois chapter of Jobs with Justice. 

“People think of it as a job that people just get in high school, and that they don’t have many responsibilities — just live at home, they don’t have kids — but it’s not like that anymore,” Baldwin said.

Median pay for fast-food workers is currently $8.59, which yields an annual income level significantly below the federal poverty line.

“Too many people in this country are working too hard for too little,” said Sidney Germaine, a participant in Friday’s rally. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

The widespread movement to raise wages for fast-food workers is entering its third year. Last year, a similar rally titled “Fight for 15” was held in Champaign.

“We want to encourage the workers to know that if you are asking for higher wages, you have the support of your community,” said Stuart Levy, who was also present at the rally. “And to the fast-food companies, that customers are aware that this is an issue.”

The matter of increasing the minimum wage for all workers is one that has lately gained national attention. In the 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to increase the national minimum wage. The Council of Economic Advisers reported that raising the minimum wage would benefit more than 28 million workers.

In addition, the Chicago City Council recently approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s five-year plan to raise the city’s minimum wage from the current $8.25 to $13 dollars by 2019.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, polls conducted since February of 2013 show that a majority of Americans support some sort of increase in minimum wage. An increase in minimum wage would not necessarily have a negative impact on the economy, the Department of Labor reported, as federal minimum wage has increased 22 times since 1938 while real GDP per capita has continued to increase.

Baldwin said he believes the fight to increase wages for fast-food workers is gaining momentum, and the movement will only continue from here. He said his organization will continue to support the cause as long as workers need it

Camille can be reached at [email protected]