Living Wages Save Lives

Today, the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago and Stand Up! Chicago released a new report detailing the links of poverty and violence in our city.

Bottom line – higher wages means less violent crime.

Chicago had 506 homicides last year, more than any other U.S. city. However, the problem extends beyond gun control measures or a matter of policing. The link is clear between violent crime, low-wages, and income inequality.

We want the release of “Fight for the Future: The Case for Raising Wages to Save Lives” to enter the debate of combating violent crime. The report highlights that paying downtown retail and restaurant workers a living wage would create a much stronger economic environment in many of these affected neighborhoods. According to research this would be a strong predictor of lowering violent crime rates.

Selina Brown, a WOCC member and South Shore resident, fears for the safety of her children saying, “bullets do not have names on them.”

Sadly, she is right. As we remember Hadiya Pendleton the teenager tragically murdered just a week after performing at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade.

The Fight for 15 is a fight for higher wages and a Fight for the Future. A living wage can save lives.

An Economic Stimulus Package for Working Families

The City of Chicago sits on a potential $179 million stimulus package, according to research. That’s the amount that would be generated if downtown companies raised the wages of their retail and fast food workers to $15 an hour.

Further research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that raising the minimum wage would put more than $800 million into the Massachusetts economy and create 4,500 new jobs. Illinois’ state legislature failed to pass a bill that would increase the state’s minimum wage to $10.65 over the next few years. EPI says it would “help working families hardest hit by the recession.”

One full-time job would result for every 25 downtown workers that receive a raise to $15 an hour. This stimulus does not need to come from the federal government or even the state. Private companies that depend upon a robust economy can strengthen our local economy by paying their workers a living wage.

Time to hit the keyboard

There are times to hit the streets to Fight for 15—and there are times to hit the Share button!

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites are all great tools for spreading the word about our union and our fight for a living wage. And you can get the word out without having to brave the bitter cold. 

Check out some of our social media successes below:

– The mission driven social media site Upworthy highlighted our Top Ten Facts Facing Low-Wage Workers leading to an explosion of traffic to our website and more people learning about our struggle for a living wage.

– We’ve been featured on HuffPost Live on three different occasions with a half dozen of our workers telling their stories. Check out just one of them here.

– Our workers are sharing their stories on video—and Lorgio, Addonis, Arsonisto and Brittney even wrote a song together!

Feeling inspired? Here are some easy ways to spread our social media presence–and get more people involved in the Fight for 15:

– Share the Top Ten on Facebook or like our page.

– Retweet us on Twitter, or tell folks to follow us.

– Spread the word about our YouTube channel.

Low-wage workers in their own words

A few of the low-wage workers that have joined the Fight for 15 sat down to tell their experiences of minimum wage work.

Lorgio’s neighborhood is plagued by violence.

Robert has worked at McDonald’s for seven years with just a ten cent raise.

Satoria works hard for a retail store while barely making ends meet.

Amie’s industry was crushed by the Great Recession.

Barely Getting By as Costs Increase

As a low-wage worker and member of WOCC I am inspired to fight for 15 so we all can make ends meet.

I am a full-time student at UIC and dream of one day starting my career that will enable me to live the American Dream. I have worked at All Saints for almost two years and I have not received a raise. The cost of living is constantly increasing and I am struggling to make ends meet. Low-wage jobs like mine simply do not cut it. I must work 116.5 hours a month to pay for a CTA bus pass, phone bill, and rent for a small studio apartment that I rarely see.

The Fight for 15 aims to help all low-wage workers better make ends meet. Did you know it takes nearly a full day of work for the average low-wage worker to earn the amount that Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries, will make in a few seconds. This is just one of the facts of life for the low-wage worker.

You may have already seen the email from Amie the other day but these are important aspects we encounter each day. There are more that we can share if you have not so already.

The infographic above shows the bleak truth for us as low-wage workers. We can and must do better. I ask you to join me in the Fight for 15 by sharing the 10 Facts of Life for Low-Wage Retail & Fast Food Workers with your Friends of Facebook. We need you to help spread the word. These are our facts of life.

I stand with my fellow workers and WOCC members. We live with the facts each day. Let’s change the facts of life for low-wage workers!


Darius Smith
WOCC Member

5 Good Reasons to Raise the Wage!

Need a reason to raise the minimum wage? Here are five good ones:

This is a particularly big one –

1. Good for Families: According to economist James Galbraith, raising the minimum wage would raise the incomes of 28 million Americans. Women would particularly benefit because they tend to work for lower wages than men. As Galbraith sees it, raising the minimum wage is family friendly policy:

“With more family income, some people would choose to retire, go back to school, or have children, making it easier for others who need jobs to find them. Working families would have more time for community life, including politics; Americans would start to reclaim the middle-class political organization that they once had. Because payroll- and income-tax revenues would rise, the federal deficit would come down. Social Security worries would fade.”

Chicago families would benefit greatly as well. Hundreds of WOCC members would see an increase in their paychecks. This would provide them with more disposable income for the basics and stimulate the local economy.

2. Good for Economic Recovery: To get the economy back on track, spending power has to be in the hands of those who actually spend in the real economy. That means regular people, not the super-wealthy who tend to hoard wealth or invest in financial products. The minimum wage story is not just a story about income inequality, but rather it’s about an elite that has hijacked the economic system and made it work less productively than before while redistributing more of what is working to themselves.

May be this should be reason number one for those who only think in terms of the bottom line.

3. Helps People Get Out of Debt: An increase of a couple of dollars per hour or more in the minimum wage could make huge improvements in the difficult existence of the working poor, perhaps allowing them to exit the debt treadmill and stand a better chance of eventually rising into a revitalized middle-class. Admittedly, corporate profits might suffer a little and some businesses at the lowest end might disappear. That said, corporate profits as a percentage of national economic output are already at an all-time record levels. And it’s questionable whether such levels of profitability can be sustained. Firms have lots of unused capacity lying around because people can’t afford to buy products and services. Sluggish sales growth is directly connected to lagging wage rates.

This one is a double whammy of goodness for the economy. It helps creditors receive their money and it also allows people to purchase more goods. Both of which can spur the economy during these sluggish times.

4. Protects Workers From Abuse: A higher minimum wage would also help to mitigate the abusive, exploitative working practices of a number of employers, who take advantage of the currently low minimum wage to seek cut-rate help. Such employers often use undocumented labor, which further undermines America’s working poor.

Another reason that just makes sense when one views workers as human beings.

5. Justice for Working Americans: Most of all, a big jump in the minimum wage would be a reparation. Because let’s be clear: class warfare has already been undertaken on behalf of the 1 percent. The past 30 years have witnessed a dramatic redistribution of national and personal income in favor of profits for the rich. At the same time, this period has been associated with a dramatic decline in the performance of the US economy. To raise the minimum wage would be literally the minimum we could do for those who have suffered from the economic crisis: the working population. It would be an act of justice.

In our Fight for 15 campaign we seek to strengthen the working class of Chicago with a living wage, an expansion of the middle class workforce, and a fair shake at the massive wealth created on the backs of our members.

The city, the companies, and above all, the workers would be better for it. We would all benefit with more financial flexibility for families, economic stimulus for the city, and a more readily available consumer base for the companies.

What more do you need to be convinced?

10 Facts of Life for Low-Wage Workers

Sources for the information appearing on the infographc slideshow.

Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, received a total of $46,609,075 in 2011. At 40-hours a week it equates to more than $22,408 per hour. Source

According to Professor Lisa Dodson’s research in “How Youth are put at Risk by Parents’ Low-Wage Jobs” most employment opportunities have come in the low-wage service industry. Two of out every three jobs created in the next decade will also be in the low-wage service industry. Source is a pdf

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson will earn $8.75 million per year while a minimum wage worker in Illinois earns $8.25 per hour. The federal minimum wage stands at $7.25. Source

Macy’s CEO, Terry Lundgren, is paid $8,486 per hour according to the company’s proxy statement. Source

Marc Doussard’s “Chicago’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce” highlights the fact that the majority of low-wage workers are over the age of 30. Source

According to the National Employment Law Project report, published in August 2012. “The Low Wage Recovery and Growing Inequality.” In Chicago, 80% of restaurant workers do not get regular pay raises and about 75% have never been promoted.

Due to the lack of paid sick days many workers find themselves showing up to work while sick. One in five report being intimidated by their supervisors if they call off sick. Restaurant Opportunities Center of Chicago. The link to the study is here:  “Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Cost of Taking the Low Road in Chicagoland’s Thriving Restaurant Industry”

A full-time minimum wage job would pay $340 a week before taxes. Too many workers do not even have the luxury of full-time employment. From Stephanie Luce, Retail Action Project: Discounted Jobs” Source

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development the average one bedroom apartment in Chicago costs $853 per month. A monthly transit pass now costs $100 per month (as of January 14, 2013). A thrifty budget for groceries would cost a family of four $626 a month, according to the USDA.