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Illinois Activists Challenge Wal-Mart

Illinois activists say research shows taxpayers are subsidizing low-wage employers.(iStockphoto)
Illinois activists say research shows taxpayers are subsidizing low-wage employers.(iStockphoto)
February 1, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A group of Illinois community activists are continuing their push for the passage of a bill that would force large employers to either pay a livable wage or pay a fine. It's called the Cook County Responsible Business Act.

Supporters say the county could lead the way for the rest of the state, when it comes to leveling out income disparities. The Reverend Thomas Gaulke is a pastor at First Lutheran Church of the Trinity in Chicago. He's backing the bill because his church regularly provides assistance for low-wage workers.

"Their jobs don't pay enough for them to actually be able to buy food on their own, to get clothing on their own," says Gaulke. "In fact, a lot of them even qualify for the LINK card, because they don't even make enough money."

Gaulke is joining a group of activists today to present a symbolic bill on behalf of taxpayers to a Wal-Mart store on Chicago's southwest side. A report by the University of California shows taxpayers spend about $150 billion a year for antipoverty programs that are mainly used by low-wage employees to supplement their incomes.

Activist groups, such as the Illinois Indiana Regional Organizing Network, argue that taxpayers should not be subsidizing the country's largest low-wage employers, like Wal-Mart and McDonald's. Instead, the Responsible Business Act would require these companies to pay around $14 an hour, or be fined to help pay for essential services like healthcare and affordable housing.

Gaulke says with at least six Cook County Commissioners supporting the bill, the Chicago area could soon take the lead on the issue.

"It will set a new standard for responsible business in the county, and perhaps set a precedent for responsible business throughout the state and even throughout the nation," Gaulke says.

Still, opponents of a wage raise, such as the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, argue that the move could lead to businesses cutting jobs.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - IL