$15 an hour is a reality in Chicago today because workers like me fought and won

This pay raise is a tremendous help that will change my life and the lives of many others across the city. But we still have a long way to go.

SHARE $15 an hour is a reality in Chicago today because workers like me fought and won

Demonstrators in downtown Chicago on Aug. 22, 2019 call for a $15 minimum hourly wage in the city.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

Chicago workers like me are getting a raise to $15 an hour as of July 1 and it couldn’t come soon enough.

I’ve been a Chicago home care worker for 15 years, and have always struggled to get by. That’s why I’ve been marching and rallying for an increase to $15 an hour alongside my union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, and our brothers and sisters in the Fight for $15 and a Union movement. When we fought and won back in 2019, I felt a huge wave of relief.

Now, seeing the measures we fought for come to fruition, I can’t help but be emotional at how this raise will help me and others across our city.

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As a home care worker, I am there for disabled and elderly folks who need help with their daily activities, such as cleaning and laundry, and reminders to take their medication. These are tasks that some people don’t have to think twice about, but my work ensures that Chicagoans can lead independent lives and age with dignity on their own terms.

I am also the primary caregiver for my 93-year-old mother. Ironically, while working as a professional caregiver, I have struggled to take care of myself and my family. I can’t afford the basics, like my utility bill or my car payment. Healthy food, like fresh fruits and vegetables, is a luxury I simply can’t afford on my wages.

Throughout my career, I’ve almost always had to work three jobs just to make ends meet, and then the pandemic hit and things got even worse. I was terrified of exposing my mother and risking my own health every day. Then when my mother got sick, I couldn’t work for weeks. This was time off without pay that we just couldn’t afford. These were dark days.

People praised workers like me for being essential, yet I felt invisible.

No one should have to live like that, worrying every day how they’re going to make ends meet, or missing precious time with their family to make sure they can eat. No one should be forced to make the decision between buying groceries or paying the heating bill. With the increased minimum wage, I can have some peace of mind knowing I can provide for basic necessities, while still giving crucial care to my clients.

This raise is a tremendous help that will change my life and the lives of many others across our city. But we still have a long way to go. Every person in the state of Illinois — whether they live in Rockford, Peoria, or on the South Side of Chicago — deserves to have the opportunity to not only succeed in life, but to thrive.

And let’s not forget that this raise didn’t happen automatically. We took to the streets and raised our voices. Fast-food workers and janitors put their bodies on the line. Workers showed up at City Hall and on the doorstep of McDonald’s, a company that made almost $5 billion in profits last year, but still won’t pay cooks and cashiers a living wage.

This only happened because working people came together, demanded $15 and hour, and won.

Now, we’re bringing that same spirit to other fights for justice and equity in our state. We’re coming together to demand investment in our communities after decades of resources being pulled out of our neighborhoods. We’re calling for a transformation in policing; fully-funded child care programs; and federal investment in good, union, living-wage home care jobs.

I’m fighting for a better future because ultimately, we are responsible for ensuring the wellbeing of every person who lives in Illinois — not just a select few. We need to care for one another. We need to recognize each other’s humanity and understand that poverty is not a character flaw, nor is it inevitable. And we need to fight for what’s right.

Today, I’m celebrating this raise that is so very well deserved for me and my family and for working families across Chicago. And I’m recommitting to our collective fight for equity, justice and freedom.

Because if we won $15 an hour, a minimum wage that some once thought was impossible, we can do anything.

Patricia Evans is a home care worker in Chicago. Her union, SEIU Healthcare, has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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