DOWNTOWN — Grassroots groups are placing a referendum on the upcoming primary ballot that would allow voters to call for a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Chicago.
But the precinct-by-precinct advisory referendum, even if ultimately adopted, would only apply to major businesses making $50 million a year, like Wal-Mart and McDonald's.
"There is a direct link between poverty and increases in violence and crime, as well as decreases in educational achievement. When workers make a living wage, it helps build up the whole community," said Gloria Warner, an Englewood resident and president of Action Now. "I am absolutely confident that working families and communities across Chicago will lift our voices and vote for this proposed referendum in huge numbers."
Action Now is part of the Raise Chicago Coalition behind the referendum. Other groups involved include the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside and SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana.
"They're targeting individual precincts," said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. They've submitted about 100 petitions, he added, to put the referendum on the ballot in about 5 percent of Chicago's 2,069 precincts. "This won't be everywhere."
The petitions are in the process of being certified for placing the referendum on the ballot in those precincts. An advisory referendum only determines the wishes of voters. It's non-binding, where actually government action is concerned.
Members of the City Council filled up the ballot for citywide referendums in the March 18 primary earlier this month with three issues concerning the concealed carrying of guns in restaurants, high-capacity ammunition magazines and higher taxi rates. But groups can still submit advisory referendums on a precinct-by-precinct basis, as happened last year with a referendum on an elected school board.
The state's current minimum wage is $8.25 an hour.
"You cannot survive on $8.25 an hour," said Silvia Torres, member of Brighton Park Neighborhood Council and resident of the 15th Ward. "Allowing highly profitable companies to pay poverty wages is an issue for the whole community. Poverty leads to violence. Therefore, we can't afford to not raise the minimum wage to $15."
"I support raising the minimum wage in Chicago for low-wage workers because we are not invisible. We will not stand by and let our elected officials maintain the status quo," added Carlos Navarro, a retired Marine veteran and a ONE Northside leader living in the 46th Ward. "I'm tired of seeing families in my community struggle to get by on poverty wages, and I am confident this referendum will show the Chicago City Council that there is a need to raise the minimum wage to a fair and living wage."