Only hours after Mayor Richard Daley’s veto of the big box ordinance, Mandell United Methodist Church held a rally Tuesday to put a “living wage” referendum on next year’s February ballot.
“We’re here to announce a new referendum that we hope to see on the electoral ballot in February,” said Rev. Gregory Livingston, pastor of Mandell Church, 5000 W. Parkway.
Daley officially vetoed the ordinance, which would have required large retailers such as Wal-Mart to offer its employees at least $13 per hour in salary and benefits, on Tuesday.
Daley had threatened to veto the ordinance almost immediately after it passed through the City Council in July.
The effort to put a living wage referendum on the ballot is being led by the HOPE Foundation, which Livingston serves as the president.
The foundation initially opened discussions of the referendum in July. Speaking from his church podium to parishioners, activists and community residents, Livingston said, “This initiative will make the veto by Mayor Daley null and void because it will be based directly on the will and voices of the people – not just representatives and bureaucrats on the City Council.”
Livingston spoke to more two dozen in attendance, including representatives from the HOPE Foundation, ACORN, and Protestants for the Common Good, a community activist organization.
Essentially, the referendum reads: “Shall the City of Chicago require employers with 25 or more employees to set a minimum wage of $10 per hour, to be adjusted for inflation each year; raise the minimum wage of ‘tipped employees’; provide for civil enforcement of the minimum wage; and authorize the City Council to establish remedies for violation of the minimum wage, and to adopt such other statues and regulations for implementation and enforcement.”
An estimated 33,000 signatures are required to get a petition on the February 2007 municipal election ballot in Chicago. Organizers from the HOPE Organization are looking to garner upwards of 100,000 signatures by the Dec. 11 deadline for the signatures to be delivered to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
According to recent polls, more than 70 percent Chicagoans polled support the “big box ordinance” which could bode well for support of the referendum.
A referendum, however, will likely face opposition from some retailers and business groups, who also opposed the original ordinance.
Wal-Mart and Target have publicly threatened to relocate to other cities and halt construction of future Chicago stores if the ordinance passed, which it did on July 26.
“At the end of the day, what the big business owners really fear most is unionizing,” said Jennifer Kottler, deputy director of Protestants for the Common Good.
“When unions become involved, that’s when they scurry, but not when it comes to living wage parameters,” Kottler added. “There are cities across the country thathave already passed some form of living wage.”
Those cities include Santa Monica, Calf., Bloomington, Ind., and Washington, D.C., Kottler said.
“These cities were still able to attract businesses despite the living wage. [Chicago is] actually behind dozens of cities in this regard,” she said.
Supporters of the ordinance and referendum aren’t too afraid of jobs being lost from the community.
“We’re losing jobs already,” said Livingston. “People are getting laid off every day, so it’s not like that isn’t already a problem for the community. However, this referendum respects the voter, the single mom, the so-called ‘little man’ or, in other words, the underpaid and chronically overworked.
“It says, ‘we know you will struggle to pay all expenses including taxes, child care, rent, food, gas, and miscellaneous on $6,'” Livingston said. “There needs to be a revision.”
Livingston suggested the possibility of government-supported incentives for business owners to counter the loss in profits, but he did not elaborate on specifics.
“I can relate to what people in Austin are going through because before I finished school I was working, making $7 an hour at my job with two children,” said Amorita Jackson-Hudson, a HOPE affiliate. “Even though I was working, I still needed to apply for the state medical card because I couldn’t afford health care for my family. Today, there are many women who are doing the same thing.”
The official kick-off of the petition drive will take place this Saturday morning at 10 during Cong. Danny Davis’ State of the District event at Malcolm X College, 1900 W. Van Buren.
In addition to a weekly deployment of individuals to gather petition signatures, organizers said they will secure approximately 50,000 signatures at polling places across the city on Election Day this November.
Among those to voice support for the referendum are Cong. Davis and the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C.