CCH and others in the Raise Illinois coalition spoke at Pilsen’s St. Pius V church in support of a higher state minimum wage, where they received some high-profile support from Gov. Pat Quinn and well-known activist actor Martin Sheen.
Gov. Quinn opened the March 13 press conference by clearly stating his support for a raise in the Illinois minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to more than $10/hour. Quinn said that a person who works 40 hours a week should be able to support themselves and their family, calling it a “principle as old as the Bible.”
More than 60% of those earning minimum wage are women, said Quinn, later
invoking a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., who also campaigned for higher minimum wage. Said Dr. King, “It’s always the right time to do the right thing.”
Anthony Smith, a leader with CCH, said he lives in a West Side shelter. Smith, 52, said he is unable to support his family, despite working hard. He gets up at 3:30 a.m. to work a temp services job, but some days he can’t get any work. Smith said he hopes that some day he can again be “the man of my house.”
Asking who could argue against a $10/hour wage, Martin Sheen said, “Acting is what I do for a living, but activism is what I do to stay alive.”
Sheen illustrated the need to fight for the minimum wage with a story of an unscarred man approaching the gates of heaven. Seeing his lack of scars, St. Peter asked the man, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”
During a brief Q & A session, Quinn said that his convictions about the minimum wage have been with him since childhood, witnessing workers’ hard work throughout his life.
“All of us have a role to play in alleviating poverty,” the governor said.
Speakers included Action Now Executive Director Katelyn Johnson, who called the minimum wage a moral issue. According to Johnson, “Raising the minimum wage is quite literally a matter of life and death.”
From Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, mother of four and full-time student Wendy Juarez said she has trouble making ends meet on minimum wage. Juarez noted many families in her community work full-time and at more than one job, yet they still earn poverty wages.
“Do our families, our parents, really need to make that tough choice between feeding their children and purchasing the necessities their children need and spending time with their children?” Juarez asked.
Raise Illinois is a coalition of community, business, faith and labor groups that support raising the minimum wage in Illinois. Senate Bill 68 would raise the wage over three years to $10.65/hour. They cite a Bureau of Labor Statistics study that showed minimum wage would be more than $10.65/hour if minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968.
Story by Claire Sloss, with photos by Shruti Sharma