On Wednesday, OFA-Illinois volunteers called on Congress to raise the minimum wage and and extend unemployment insurance. They were joined at the Federal Plaza by Rep. Jan Schakowsky to make their point: If you work full-time in America, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.
Joseph Phillips, an unemployed Vietnam veteran who recently lost unemployment benefits thanks to Congress’ failure to renew them at the end of last year, urged Sen. Mark Kirk to reinstate them and support the minimum wage increase. “I know so many families who are struggling like me and depend on unemployment insurance to help them out until they find jobs that pay a living wage. So I ask you, please, Sen. Kirk, as a fellow veteran yourself, have compassion. All we are asking is a little help. Families and veterans alike are hurting. We need good jobs that pay a living wage. Please renew unemployment benefits and raise the minimum wage to $10.10. I don’t think that’s asking too much, coming from a veteran who served this country honorably.”
Kim Brown of Rogers Park, who lost her job in 2011 when it was outsourced to Cleveland, Ohio, lost her own extended unemployment benefits early due to sequester cuts. She had to rely on family and friends for help after exhausting her life savings and retirement funds. She is now employed part-time at only a third of her former salary, making just over Illinois’ minimum wage.
“I’m having a very hard time just paying my rent each month and have continued to borrow money from friends and family to get by,” said Brown. “I’ve been looking for a second job since September to supplement but haven’t been able to find one of those yet, while also continuing to look for a more suitable full-time job. I don’t understand why it is so impossible to find a full-time job that pays a livable wage and provides basic benefits like paid sick and vacation days and health insurance. Even though I am working full time, I still qualify for Medicaid and food stamps.”
Brian Cerullo, a 2010 Northeastern University graduate, works a minimum wage job at a Wicker Park bakery. “I work as many hours as my bosses will give me–30 hours a week–and I can barely pay my rent every month. I haven’t been to the doctor in over eight months, even though I needed to a few times. I can’t miss work, because then I can’t eat, let alone pay for a visit to a healthcare provider.”
Cerullo has worked a variety of jobs since he graduated, but none of them paid enough for him to do more than scrape by. His goal is to go back to school and get a master’s in social work with a specialization in counseling, but he has not been able to save enough money. “I work in a bakery because I can take home whatever pastries we don’t sell, but I haven’t heard of any schools accepting croissants as tuition payments,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m pretty sure I won’t have the resources to become a psychologist for a long, long time. I’m more than willing to work, and work hard.”
“Raising the minimum wage plays a big part in improving our communities,” said Gloria Warner, an Englewood resident and president of the community organization Action Now. “When workers make a living wage they can put money back into the local economy. When the minimum wage is raised, everyone wins: workers, neighbors, businesses and the economy.”
“I want to send this message verbally to Senator Kirk to extend unemployment insurance,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “And its not just for the 105,000 Illinoisans who would benefit from having a check, but it also means that the state would not lose close to $200 million dollars in money that would come to those people …that they would immediately go out and spend. Sen. Kirk said if that bill was paid for…that he would vote for it. Not only did he vote no, but he broke his promise to the country and the people of Illinois.”
UFCW Local 1546 represents workers in Illinois and Indiana in a diverse range of industries including grocery and drug retailers; meat cutting, processing, and packing; chemical works; nursing home and healthcare facilities, and many others.