Minimum-wage workers call for student votes on higher wage

By Stephanie Yang

A panel of low-wage workers, students and professors speaking to NU students.
A panel of low-wage workers, students and professors speaking to NU students.

With election approaching in less than seven days, two minimum-wage workers and an economics professor discussed Wednesday their perspectives on low-wage living and the effects of higher wage on daily lives.

“Fighting to Survive: Perspectives on Low Wages,” co-sponsored by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Fight for 15, Northwestern University Community for Human Rights, Sheil Catholic Center, the Center for Civic Engagement and ZOOZ, invited Nancy Salgado, Gloria Davis and School of Education and Social Policy’s Prof. Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach to an hour-long discussion.

“You’re working in a refrigerated warehouse where you’re lifting heavy buckets of meat, all for $8.25 an hour. It was not the best experience,” said Gloria Davis, a worker for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) and the mother of two sons, who shared her experience of working at Chicago’s meatpacking plant.

To make her voice heard, Davis gave testimonials in front of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Governor of Illinois. “It was an honor,” said Davis, who spoke at Gov. Pat Quinn’s minimum wage bill signing ceremony earlier in June.

To Davis, testifying is just a small step of the entire journey. The minimum-wage worker registered voters by door-knocking and working with organizations. “You have to let your politicians know because more people are saying that they want it,” she said. “I’m not done yet.”

Nancy Salgado faces similar struggles. A single mother of two, 28-year-old Salgado has worked as a cashier at McDonald’s for the past 12 years. Like Davis, Salgado receives $8.25 per hour and works 30 to 40 hours a week.

“We’re working for a multi-billion dollar company. They can’t afford to pay $15. A family of a mother and a child should be $20.84. We’re only asking for $15. Is that a lot?” she said.

Ever since joining “Fight for 15,” Salgado has participated in multiple strikes. In no time, she became a leader of a nationwide movement. Sixty cities joined Salgado and her fellow workers to go on strike in December 2013. By the end of May 2014, the number increased to 160. “This is growing. This is getting viral. It’s everywhere,” she said.

Salgado tearfully related the challenges of being a single mother of two children. “[A pay raise of] $15 means getting a sleep one day without having to worry about my tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t understand…these multi-billion dollar companies are getting richer every day. My kids deserve the same thing.”

Prof. Schanzenbach, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, said today’s economists would agree that the economy of the United States would be able to absorb a 20 to 30 percent pay raise. She shared her interest in justice among diversity of people and in economics and social policies.

The speakers stressed the importance of active student participation. “Go vote, contact legislators. Please go vote and say ‘yes,” said Davis in an interview with the Chronicle. “All we want is to have dignity and have fruits of our labor, just like every body else.”

CCH worker Hannah Willage said she also hopes that more students will get involved. “Northwestern students have been generally supportive,” she said, noting a number of students’ efforts to meet with state legislators and senators.

SESP junior and Sheil Catholic Center’s student representative Emiliano Vera said the groups had been meeting with Willage since 2013. “We decided to cover minimum wage because we knew this was going to be on the ballot,” he said.

The 2014 election will take place on Tuesday, November 4. This year, Illinois is starting same-day voter registration, a program that will allow unregistered voters to update their address to register in Illinois. Eligible voters can register or update their registration information at the Evanston Civic Center on Ridge Avenue.

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