More than 50 community activists and residents of the 4th Ward gathered outside of Ald. Will Burns office, 435 E. 35th Street, Thursday, demanding that Burns support the city’s ordinance to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
“McDonalds and Walmart can afford to pay its workers more money,” said Adeline Bracey, a member of the grassroots community organization, Action Now.
“It’s time for us to stand up for Chicago and for the working poor,” she said.
An ordinance to increase minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 an hour over four years was introduced in May by 21 aldermen. Shortly after, Mayor Rahm Emanuel created a task force that recommended the minimum wage should be $13 an hour. Last month, the mayoral-appointed group voted 13-3 to approve the plan. Those who voted against it were the Chicago Retail Merchants Association, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Restaurant Association.
“Here’s the problem, when you look at the labor cost, with $15, you create significant costs for the small businesses in our communities,” Burns told the Chicago Defender. “If you look at the South and West Side, the only businesses there are the small, community-based ones and a lot of them would not have been able to do it.”
Burns said that the Minimum Wage Working Group, which he co-chaired, looked at “different levels.”
“I supported $15 an hour,” said Burns, who said he had to think of how the small businesses would be effected too.
“I think there’s a balancing act and as an advocate you don’t have to, you have your objective,” he said. “We had to come up with an ordinance that could pass council and where you could say this minimum wage would help people and not run small business out of Chicago.”
Burns said the task force looked at other ways to still help workers get out of poverty. The group also recommended an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“I appreciate policy differences, but I am troubled by the lack of civility and personal attacks calling me a sell-out isn’t a way to have a policy discussion and it’s not helpful,” he said.
In a statement, Burns said, “Our primary goal was lifting Chicagoans out of poverty, we worked very hard toward that end and we’re very pleased with where we’ve arrived.”
City Council will not vote on the suggested wage increase until the Nov. 4 elections are over.
Residents in Burns’ ward said they are unhappy with the alderman because he refuses to support the $15 an hour wage. Approximately 92.6% of residents in the 4th ward voted in favor of a $15 minimum wage. One young father, Brandon Askew has a four-year-old daughter, Anastasia, and he said the $8.25 an hour he currently makes at his job isn’t nearly enough. He can barely cover rent, money for his commute, pull-ups and other necessities, he said. Things like going to the barbershop for a haircut don’t even make the list, he said.
Askew said the violence in Black communities will decline if people had better paying jobs. The lack of them is one reason why the violence continues.
“They have no choice, it’s self perseverance,” said Askew.
Dennis Sanders, a member of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, said he came to protest because he wanted to give other young men a voice.
“We are speaking for the next generation, he said. “This is important because Black people struggle in the community so we want to help get the $15 minimum wage which will give people a better living in Chicago.”
Community activist Jitu is also with the Kenwood organization and he said Burns has a history of not listening to his constituents. Despite what the majority of the ward wants, Burns is ignoring them, said Jitu.
“People can’t live on $8.25 an hour,” Jitu said. “This is just another example of Alderman Will Burns carrying the water for corporate interest, as opposed to listening to his constituents.”
“One of the first examples was the closing of the 21st district police station,” he said. “His constituents overwhelmingly said we did not support the closing of that station, yet he got up in City Council and said despite what my constituents want, I support this. And what was the result? Violence skyrocketing in this area.
“He needs to know that there is a growing sentiment that says he does not deserve to be representing the people in this ward,” Jitu said.