Religious leaders, labor activists urge [Illinois] minimum wage hike

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By Gregory Tejeda
Northwest Indiana Times, Mar 8 2011
CHICAGO | Religious leaders and labor activists in the South Chicago and East Side neighborhoods said Tuesday they want Illinois lawmakers to approve an increase in the state's minimum wage.

Illinois' minimum wage is $8.25 per hour.

The group is in favor of a bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, that calls for annual increases between 50 and 65 cents until 2014, when the minimum wage would reach $10.65 per hour.

The pastors of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and Pilgrim Baptist Church both said they support the increase, and they are working with the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos and Restaurant Opportunities Center -- two labor activist groups that represent workers in the Far South Side neighborhoods of Chicago -- to build support for the bill.

The pastors disagree with those who argue an increased minimum wage will drive small businesses out of the area and into Indiana, where the minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

"Increasing the minimum wage stimulates the economy, it is good for business. It will turn more people into consumers who will spend," said the Rev. Carl Quebedeaux of Our Lady of Guadalupe. "No one who works full-time should have to live in poverty."

The Rev. Hillard Hudson of Pilgrim Baptist said he thinks people who argue for lower minimum wages are not looking at the reality around them.

"People may have their opinions, but we have the facts," he said. "I would impress upon their compassion to see what is happening for themselves."

Also supportive of the pastors' arguments was Ron Baiman of the Chicago-based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. He said people who argue that higher minimum wage laws harm business do not take into account the fact that most minimum wage jobs are in the service industry and compete against other companies that also would have to pay an increased minimum wage.

"These are companies that appeal to a local customer base," he said. "Their customers are here. They're not about to move to Indiana."

The bill is scheduled to come up for review Wednesday before the state Senate's Executive Committee. If it passes there, it would advance to the full Senate for review.

Local activists plan to join an organized labor rally on March 16 at the Statehouse in Springfield. Centro de Trabajadores Unidos Director Ana Guajardo said activists will meet with area legislators and urge them to support the increase.