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Opinion: Like New York, Chicago should hike minimum wage to $15

On Thursday, when Gov. Mario Cuomo announced a push to raise pay to $15 an hour for fast-food workers across New York State, I was instantly brought back to the first time I went on strike in Chicago in 2013.

I remember being afraid, but knowing that I was doing the right thing. I remember kissing my two young children on their forehead, and telling them that I was doing this because I loved them and because I needed to ensure a better future for them. I remember rallying in The Loop that morning while some people told us that $15 was impossible. But in just three years, fast food workers all over the country have proven that we can be our own champions and change our own paths.

OPINION

To be honest, at one point, I was also skeptical. It wasn’t until I went to a meeting with other fast food workers from all over Chicago that I knew this was possible if we all stuck together. Since then I’ve been on strike multiple times, I’ve gone to numerous rallies and protests, and I even confronted McDonald’s ex-president, Jeff Stratton, at a Union League Club event to tell him I couldn’t afford shoes for my kids.

I’ve done all of this because after working in the fast food industry for more than 10 years, I realized that I had enough. I had enough of the nickel raises, of the disrespect, the lack of dignity, and of living in poverty. I tried everything to change things. I went back to school, worked multiple jobs, but my family and I still struggle to survive.

This is why New York’s victory is also a victory for workers in Chicago, Illinois, and all over the country because we know that if $15 can happen in NY it can also happen anywhere.

But this victory also means that Chicago is officially the largest city in the country that is not on a path to win $15, and that’s not right. While the path to $13 by 2019 and the recent raise to $10 is a step forward, it’s simply not enough. The fast food industry is a $200 billion dollar industry. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s can pay $15 right now. There is no reason we should have to wait years to get a fair wage.

In Illinois, more than half of fast food workers depend on public assistance to meet ends meet. With higher wages fast food workers would be able to stand on our own two feet. In the middle of a budget crisis in the city and state, an increase to $15 would mean considerable savings and much needed revenue in increased payroll and individual income taxes.

Fifteen dollars across New York proves that when you stand up and speak out, you can achieve life-changing victories. All across the country, underpaid workers are doing just that. Fifteen dollars in New York is just the beginning. Chicago needs to be next. We can’t let our beautiful city fall behind.

Nancy Salgado works for Burger King. She previously worked more than ten years for McDonald’s. She lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.