Protesters in Pilsen demand higher minimum wages for tipped workers

By Zachary Clingenpeel, Photojournalist

Protesters gather under the “Elena the Essential Worker” wooden statue at the intersection of West 18th Street, Blue Island Avenue and South Loomis Street. A portion of Blue Island Avenue in Pilsen has been honorably renamed after famous labor leader and farm workers rights advocate Cesar Chavez. Zachary Clingenpeel

Dozens of protesters with One Fair Wage gathered under the “Elena the Essential Worker” statue in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood to demand higher wages for tipped workers in Illinois.

The march and protest, held Monday, Aug. 31, was organized in response to a recent report published by One Fair Wage in collaboration with the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center indicating a nearly $4 wage gap between Black women and white men who are tipped workers.

Kyman Javairhill leads the protesters with a bullhorn, chanting “one fair wage.” Zachary Clingenpeel

In Illinois, anyone who receives a minimum of $20 a month in tips is considered a tipped worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The protest at the intersection of West 18th Street, Blue Island Avenue and South Loomis Street included representatives from One Fair Wage, Fight for 15, the American Postal Workers Union, Casa Casa, and the Pilsen Alliance. U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.), Illinois State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-Chicago) and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward) also joined the protest.

Ash Burnley, representative of Fight for 15, an organization that fights to raise minimum wages across the country, speaks to gathered protesters about the efficacy of workers coming together. Zachary Clingenpeel
Event organizer Nataki Rhodes follows the march down West 18th Street with an amplifier and a microphone to assist in chants while a Chicago police officer follows behind the protest. Zachary Clingenpeel

“We are here today to say we are ending the legacy of slave wages,” said event organizer Nataki Rhodes, during a speech decrying the disparity in wages between white and Black workers.

After Rhodes, several local, state and national politicians spoke alongside tipped workers at the event.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez delivers his speech to tipped workers in both English and Spanish. Zachary Clingenpeel
Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya, who represents Pilsen, Little Village and other areas on the South and Southwest sides, and community leader Mary Gonzalez stand side by side before a crowd gathered to protest low minimum wages for tipped workers. Zachary Clingenpeel

“We want the city and we want the state to raise minimum wages [for tipped workers],” said Kyman Javairhill, a tipped worker for DoorDash and member of One Fair Wage. The current minimum wage for tipped workers is $6. “We’d rather it be raised to $15,” Javairhill said.

The $6 minimum wage for tipped workers in Illinois is less than the state’s minimum wage of $8.25 for non-tipped workers, according to the Illinois Department of Labor.

“No working person should have to scrape by,” said U.S. Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-Ill.). “Everyone deserves the dignity of hard earned, decent and fair living wages.” Zachary Clingenpeel
Protesters with One Fair Wage march down West 18th Street in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. “We felt that it was very important to be in this [neighborhood] because of so many Black and brown workers that live in this community,” said event organizer Nataki Rhodes. Zachary Clingenpeel

Protesters marched east on West 18th Street carrying signs and banners demanding a fair wage.

“We demand one fair wage,” Garcia said. “This is an old fight, but it has taken on a new meaning during COVID-19, a new urgency and a new call to action because the injustice cannot wait.”