To: The next governor of Illinois
From: Keith Kelleher, president, SEIU Healthcare Illinois
Well, ladies and gentlemen who want to replace Bruce Rauner as governor, this week could represent a big chance for you. For years, we have worked in coalition with partners across the state to advocate for a living wage and now, somewhat unexpectedly, the issue of income inequality has inserted itself into the talks over the so-called "grand bargain" being hashed out in the Senate.
Forgetting for a moment how we got here (Rauner's unwillingness to follow his constitutional duty of presenting the General Assembly with a balanced budget), let's embrace this opportunity to "Fight for $15." It's a battle that's been won in places like California, New York and Seattle, sending 20 million workers on a path out of poverty, with lawmakers in other blue states like New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Nevada well on their way to victory.
Potential candidates, don't you want to make your voices heard on an issue that has everything to do with the economic well-being of workers in Illinois? Wouldn't it set you apart from the current governor, who has done everything he can to block any pathways into the middle class for working women and men?
The issue of the minimum wage was a bold ballot issue in 2014 and voters expressed an overwhelming preference for raising the wage. But after Rauner won HIS slender victory, the issue seemed to wither on the vine. Imagine that.
It's not THAT surprising, since Rauner and his billionaire pals have opposed ANY minimum wage. Lawmakers have since shied from the issue, so I give the Illinois Senate great credit for kickstarting the conversation that seemed all but dead on a state level two years ago. While we are looking for the House now to provide its own leadership, we know that it will be up to the governor to sign it into law.
This week, discussion continues on Senate Bill, the minimum wage bill. Will it be part of the compromise package? Will it be withdrawn altogether? Will leaders raise the floor to $15?
Since the last go-round on the minimum wage in Illinois, costs of living for workers have only risen. Diapers, milk, rent, gas, cough syrup, electric, you name it, all of these have gotten more expensive while wages for so many have stayed the same, amounting to a pay CUT. More than 41 percent of Illinois workers earn less than $15 per hour, including a vast majority of our workforce, and this means being at or below poverty. This isn't right, especially when someone like Rauner is making $158 million doing a whole lot of nothing.
Just think what a raise could do for the workers of Illinois-and how YOU could lead by advocating for it.
Research shows that even in places like Carbondale, a single worker would need to earn more than $31,000-per-year by 2021 to cover basic housing, food and transportation costs. An $8.25- or even $11-per-hour wage just won't cut it and more and more of our citizens will fall further and further behind.
The answer? Well, I'm glad you asked: Let's Fight for $15!
Where the $15 minimum wage floor has been instituted across the country in places like California and New York, models are showing positive results. Instead of hindering economies, as the usual suspects have argued, the increase is poised to spur growth. But more importantly, the wage increase is expected to help families crawl up out of poverty and gain a real shot at the middle class for their labor. Isn't that a great vision for Illinois?
Bruce Rauner has said he believes in no minimum wage at all, and I believe him: His actions as governor have shown he is supportive of a low-wage economy where wages and benefits are low and corporate profits are high.
Now, YOU are running to replace Rauner and I KNOW the working families want to know where you stand on this important issue.
So, I ask you, will you Fight for $15?
In choosing our next governor, the workers of Illinois deserve to know.