Action Now – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop http://www.newstips.org Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.14 Will higher wages hurt the economy? http://www.newstips.org/2013/08/will-higher-wages-hurt-the-economy/ Sun, 04 Aug 2013 19:28:40 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7581 Higher wages for fast food and retail workers could hurt the economy, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune.

The analysis includes comments from the Workers Organizing Committee, which led hundreds of workers from national chains, from Wendy’s to Potbelly and from Sears to Victoria’s Secret, in strike actions here last week.  They’re not looking to double wages to $15 an hour overnight; they’re trying to organize a union and address a range of issues.

It also includes a Whole Foods employee who works two additional jobs and still qualifies for food stamps, and a labor economist who is quoted to the effect that high unemployment helps lower wages.

But its major thrust is whether consumers can stand to pay the higher prices that they say higher wages would require.  The economists they ask about this specialize in consumer psychology and marketing behavior.

One crucial piece of information is omitted, curiously:  how big of a price increase are we talking here?

In a column reviewing “the boilerplate argument against higher wages” — which is precisely that it would hurt consumers with “enormous” prices increases — David Sirota fills us in.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.50 would add 5 cents to the price of a Big Mac, according to one analysis.  Another study found that raising McDonalds workers’ hourly rate to $15 would drive the price of a Big Mac up by 22 cents.

Run that by your consumer psychologist.

A recent study by Action Now and Stand Up Chicago found that  raising Chicago retail and restaurant workers’ wages to $15 an hour would cost about $100 million for a sector with $14.2 billion in yearly revenues in the city.  That’s about 2.6 percent of revenue.

“Downtown employers can afford a very significant increase in wages,” they argue.

It’s an important reality check to vague scare talk about higher prices.  That line of arguent works because it involves a “populist insinuation that higher wages would hurt the Average Joe,” according to Sirota.

Here’s another hard economic fact that deserves more attention, courtesy of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability:  the largest, most profitable retailers in Illinois pay the lowest wages.

On average, the huge chains, those with more than 500 employee in the state — about 2 percent of the firms, with about 60 percent of market share — pay 18.5 percent less than smaller companies.

McDonalds’ profits last year were $5.5 billion.  And they don’t want to give their workers a $3-an-hour raise because they’d have to charge 5 cents more for a hamburger?

“Retail and fast food outlets in the Magnificent Mile and the Loop are among the country’s most profitable, but their workers take home poverty wages to the city’s poorest neighborhoods,” said Katelyn Johnson of Action Now in a statement supporting WOC strikers.

“We know that they need and deserve a living wage to support their families. And every dollar invested in a living wage will raise up the economy for all of the city’s neighborhoods.”

CTBA estimates that by increasing consumer spending, raising the minimum wage by two dollars would generate 25,000 jobs in Illinois and increase economic activity in the state by $2.5 billion.

But there’s a much larger question missed by the Trib’s analysis:  can the U.S. economy handle the wholesale replacement of middle-class employment with low-wage jobs?

Middle-income jobs represented 60 percent of job losses from 2008 to 2010 but only 22 percent of job growth in the recovery.  On the other hand, low-wage jobs accounted for 21 percent of lost jobs but 58 percent of subsequent job growth.  (The Tribune has covered this.)

It’s happening in Chicago:  nearly one-third of Chicago workers now work for $12 an hour or less (up from 24 percent in low-wage jobs in 2001) according to a report from Women Employed and Action Now. 

Those are the kinds of jobs where Chicago is “showing strength” — “lesiure, hospitality, food, retail industries,” especially tied to tourism — as Mesirow chief economist Diane Swonk tells the Sun Times.

According to Women Employed and Action Now, those are jobs “paying too little to support an individual, much less a family, without public assistance or charity.”

Meanwhile, as I’ve argued, Mayor Emanuel’s policies seem aimed at turning Chicago from the union town to a low-wage town.

Is this really the direction we want to go?

Maybe Chicago’s retail and fast food workers and the Workers Organizing Committee can do something about that.

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After the school closing vote http://www.newstips.org/2013/05/after-the-school-closing-vote/ Thu, 23 May 2013 03:52:59 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=7243 With the school board voting to close 50 neighborhood schools — to nobody’s surprise — the movement that sprang up in opposition moves to a new phase.

One indication: while the board was meeting, eight activists were arrested in Springfield blocking the entrance of legislative chambers, demanding the General Assembly pass a moratorium blocking the closings.

Participating were members of Action Now, Albany Park Neighborhood Council, Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and the Chicago Teachers Union.

“We’re going to keep up the momentum to stop school closings,” said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.  “There will definitely be more large-scale actions.”

“There’s a legislative strategy and a street strategy,” said Jitu Brown of KOCO.  “We are organizing in our communities to stand up for our children, to stand against disinvestment — which is what this is.”

Said Brown: “They are expecting people to scurry back into survival mode, but they’ve got that wrong.  People want to send their children to their neighborhood schools.”

He promised a “full-court press” for an elected school board over the next year.

Raise Your Hand called on the legislature to pass a moratorium on school closings “so CPS can modify its utilization formula to incorporate special education populations along with…community-based programs.”  The district’s utilization formula “is significantly flawed” and “results in overcrowded classrooms across CPS,” said Wendy Katten.

Along with a moratorium, RYH urged legislators to order an audit of safety, factility conditions, and overcrowding in closing and receiving schools, as well as the costs of school closings.

“I don’t think anybody thinks this is the end,” said Erica Clark of Parents For Teachers.

“Parents in some of the schools are not going to take this lying down,” she said.  “For months they’ve been saying we’re not leaving our school, we’re not going to that school, it’s not safe and it’s not a better school; we’re just not going.”

After months of effort, “a lot more people are engaged,” said Xian Barrett, a high school history teacher and activist with the Caucus of Rank and File Educators in CTU.  Keeping them engaged is the challenge organizers face.

The union is providing one avenue for continued activism — training hundreds of voter registrars with the goal of  registering 100,000 new voters.  Two hundred teachers and community members have registered for the first training sessions, conducted by the County Clerk’s office, Thursday, May 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Bethel AME Church, 4440 S. Michigan.

CTU president Karen Lewis will speak about the failings of mayoral control of Chicago schools and the need for an elected school board.

“It’s really a biggger fight to get community control of our city and our schools, and it won’t be over until it’s won,” Barrett said.

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Charge city demolitions ‘destroying our neighborhoods’ http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/charge-city-demolitions-destroying-our-neighborhoods/ Wed, 31 Oct 2012 22:59:26 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6732 The city’s program of demolishing vacant homes is just “creating more destruction in our neighborhoods” and not making areas any safer, according to leaders in impacted communities.

“There is no community imput or transparency,” said Charles Brown, a leader with Action Now.  “They are just coming in and creating more destruction in our neighborhoods.”

“Vacant lots are just as dangerous as vacant buildings,” said Brown, a retired police officer and Englewood resident.  “We need to build communities back up instead of knocking them down.”

He spoke as Mayor Emanuel announced the city has demolished the 200th home in what’s being billed as an anti-gang initiative.  There are over 15,000 vacant properties in Chicago.

“This top-down approach to the vacant building problems is just wiping out our neighborhoods,” said Action Now president Michelle Young.  “We want to bring families back into these homes and have the city invest in long-term solutions instead of quick fixes that don’t work.”

“Our biggest concern is the lack of transparency,” said Dan Kleinman, the group’s policy director.  He said Action Now has requested information from the city about buildings on the list to be demolished but has not received it.

“Why are these buildings being chosen for demolition?” he asked.  “Why weren’t they required to be secured under the vacant property ordinance?  Why wasn’t the option of revitalization considered?

“We don’t know because there isn’t any transparency,” he said.

Action Now is working on an ordinance to establish a Chicago Land Trust that could renovate vacant buildings into affordable rental homes.  (More on that here.)

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Rebuild neighborhoods by rehabbing vacant homes http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/rebuild-neighborhoods-by-rehabbing-vacant-homes/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/10/rebuild-neighborhoods-by-rehabbing-vacant-homes/#comments Wed, 24 Oct 2012 19:55:32 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6713 West Side residents will meet Thursday night to discuss a proposal from Action Now to establish a Chicago Housing Trust that would rehab vacant buildings as affordable rentals (Thursday, October 25, 6 p.m., Penn Elementary, 1616 S. Avers).

At a South Side meeting last week, residents spoke up about the problems associated with vacant properties.  Action Now leader Charles Brown told about seeing a man taking a young girl into a vacant building; Brown gathered a few neighbors and went to her rescue.

The group has opposed an “anti-violence initiative” by Mayor Emanuel under which over a hundred vacant homes have been demolished, instead proposing a public-private effort they’ve dubbed “Rebuild Chicago.”

“Why tear them down,” said Action Now leader Adeline Bracey.  “We don’t need any more vacant lots.”  She called for a moratorium on demolitions.  “Let’s look at the property and if it’s sound, why not rehab it?”

The group has revamped an earlier proposal and plans to introduce an ordinance calling for a Chicago Housing Trust that would accept donations of vacant buildings from banks and lend them at no cost to developers who would agree to provide affordable housing and hire local residents.

Banks and developers have expressed interest, said policy director Dan Kleinman.  Banks would get to remove negative equity from their portfolios and take advantage of tax write-offs, he said, and developers would be spared acquisition costs, enabling them to provide housing at lower cost.

“Let’s teach our young people a trade so they don’t need to stand on the street being harassed and arrested,” said Bracey.

“Our neighborhood has changed in the last 40 years,” said Brown.  “We want to bring it back to the way it used to be.”

Similar programs have been successful in Flint, Michigan, and Cleveland, Ohio, Kleinman said

The group is circulating an ordinance among aldermen and has met with the mayor’s office, he said.

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Residents oppose demolitions http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/residents-oppose-demolitions/ Fri, 13 Jul 2012 02:26:38 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6437 Mayor Emanuel has begun demolishing vacant buildings in his newest anti-crime effort, but an organization of residents in the affected communities says it won’t work — and there are better ways to deal with vacant buildings.

Action Now will hold a press conference in front of a vacant lot at 53rd and Laflin, Friday, July 13 at 10 a.m., to call on the city to stop demolition and instead use the new Chicago Infrastructure Trust to rehab and rent vacant buildings.

“Vacant lots are not any less dangerous than vacant buildings, and demolishing [buildings] won’t solve the crime problem,” said spokesperson Aileen Kelleher.

She points to the shooting Tuesday of a 14-year-old boy standing in a vacant lot in Roseland.  Last year Action Now held a protest in Humboldt Park at a vacant lot – left unsecured by mortgage holder Chase Bank — where a woman was raped.

One solution is stepped-up enforcement of the vacant properties ordinance, she said.

“If the city had held banks accountable with the vacant properties ordinance – if the banks had kept these properties up and secured them – we wouldn’t be at this point,” said Charles Brown, chair of Action Now’s neighborhood revitalization committee, which developed the Rebuild Chicago plan to finance rehab and rental.  (See yesterday’s post.)

The vacant properties ordinance requires mortgage lenders to maintain and secure properties that have been vacated during the foreclosure process.

A retired police officer and longtime Englewood resident, Brown worked to have two vacant homes on his block demolished several years ago.  It wasn’t a real solution, he now says.

“Now we’ve got these big holes on the block,” he said.  “It creates a crime scene.”  And if no one tends the land, weed and trash-strewn lots “bring down the appearance of the neighborhood.”

On the next block is a row of vacant buildings.  “If you tear them down you’ll just have a huge vacant lot that will attract crime.”  Meanwhile, “working families are being forced out of my neighborhood.”

That’s why he’s pushing the Rebuild Chicago plan.  “We shouldn’t be spending money demolishing buildings; we should be rehabbing them and providing housing,” he said.

Brown and other Action Now members met with mayoral staff to discuss the plan this week, he said.

Under the plan detailed by Action Now, the $4 million set aside by Emanuel to demolish or secure 200 buildings would be enough to provide city financing to rehab and reoccupy more than 200 buildings in moderate disrepair.

The Chicago Rehab Network has called on the city to make housing an eligible use for revenue generated by the infrastructure trust, said executive director Kevin Jackson.  He points out that after a ten-year push by CRN and others, the state included housing in its latest capital budget.

“We need to view housing as basic infrastructure,” he said.

Jackson sees echoes of the past in the mayor’s demolition program.  “Every decade or so there’s this idea that if we just tear down buildings we can clear away all these problems,” he said.

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Action Now: Don’t demolish – rebuild http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/action-now-dont-demolish-rebuild/ http://www.newstips.org/2012/07/action-now-dont-demolish-rebuild/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2012 21:31:35 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6426 A community group is taking issue with Mayor Emanuel’s new plan to demolish vacant buildings that serve as gang havens.

Action Now is proposing an alternative strategy:  use the Chicago Infrastructure Trust to finance rehab of the buildings into affordable rentals.

Emanuel says his “message to gang members” is that “you will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

But according to Michelle Young, president of Action Now, “He’s really saying that working families will no longer find shelter in the city of Chicago.”

On Monday, Emanuel said the city has identified 200 buildings for possible demolition due to their “location in high-crime areas.”  His initiative covers Englewood, Lawndale, Grand Crossing, Garfield Park, and Little Village.

“All over the city there are blocks full of vacant homes,” Young said in a release. “Our neighborhoods have become ghost towns. The mayor is going in the wrong direction.

“The solution to the vacant property problem is not creating more destruction by demolishing buildings,” she said. “We must rebuild our communities by transforming vacant buildings into homes for families once again.”

Last month Action Now unveiled its Rebuild Chicago plan, under which banks would temporarily deed vacant homes over to the city and the infrastructure trust would partner with private developers to rehab them.

A detailed scenario shows that a typical two-flat in Aurburn-Gresham, costing about $131,000, could be rehabbed for $32,000 and each unit rented out for $600 a month.  After accounting for property management, upkeep and taxes, the infrastructure trust and the developer would share healthy profits.

After ten years the property would be returned to the bank to be sold – hopefully in a much stronger market, especially if the downward drag of vacant, foreclosed properties can be mitigated.

The program would also create jobs in communities where unemployment is a huge problem.

“Taxpayer money should not be used to demolish,” said Katelyn Johnson of the Action Now Institute. “It should be used to transform Chicago’s neighborhoods into the vibrant centers they once were.

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What about the neighborhoods? http://www.newstips.org/2012/05/what-about-the-neighborhoods/ Wed, 16 May 2012 20:38:10 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=6201 The Grassroots Collaborative is offering visiting journalists bus tours of working-class neighborhoods struggling with violence, foreclosures, and clinic closings — and they’re questioning the millions of dollars being spent on entertainment at the NATO summit.

Buses leave from the Hyatt Regency at 8:15 a.m. on Thursday and Friday, May 17 and 18, and return by 11 a.m.  Information is at thegrassrootscollaborative.org.

Thursday’s tour will cover Little Village, one of the city’s largest Latino neighborhoods, where community groups are working to address youth violence; and Back of the Yards, where one of six mental health centers recently closed by the city is located.

(The two clinics primarily serving Latino communities were closed, as were four of six South Side clinics, and half the bilingual staff was laid off, all to save $3 million.  Having been repeatedly rebuffed in attempts to hold meetings with city officials – including a City Council hearing blocked by the mayor– the Mental Health Movement is planning to march on Mayor Emanuel’s home on Saturday morning.)

Friday morning’s tour will cover Englewood, a poor African-American community hard hit by foreclosures and violence, and Brighton Park, where low-income Latino residents are developing community schools.

Grassroots Collaborative, a citywide coalition of labor and community organizations, is questioning the priorities of spending millions of dollars to host the NATO summit while the city shuts down clinics and schools, said Eric Tellez.

On another level, he said, NATO spends billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars while poverty and unemployment “devastates communities across the country” and “the global poor fall deeper into poverty.”

Party fund

Last month the coalition called on World Business Chicago, which is raising money to host NATO, to donate comparable sums to establish a Neighborhood Jobs Trust.  In recent statements, the group is focusing on the $14 million being spent on parties for the summit.

“Spending $14 million on food and wine and music just seems evil and sinful when you have kids in this neighborhood who have no place to play, when you have parents keeping their children inside after school because they’re afraid of gun violence,” said Pastor Victor Rodriguez of La Villita Church in Little Village, a leader in Enlace Chicago.

To visiting journalists he says, “I would ask them to ask somebody if it’s fair to spend $14 million on parties when organizations are looking for $600 to buy new equipment so that 120 kids can stay off the streets for a year.”

Emanuel has “cut the head tax for the corporations and then the corporations turn back around in a deal and donate to support NATO coming here,” says Charles Brown, a 43-year resident of Englewood and a leader with Action Now.  “Well the people that are going to profit from NATO coming here…it’s going to be the corporations.

“Will you treat us the way that you’re treating NATO, spend $14 million on us and put forth a program to help the people that are struggling and suffering?  So that we won’t tear down any more homes, so that we’ll start preserving them, so that the banks will start paying their fair share and giving back to the 99 percent that made all of this possible?”

“Our elected officials time and time again take the podium and pound their fists and say it’s about the kids, it’s about the kids,” said Rodriguez.  “I think that about 10 percent of that $14 million would do so much good here in our community.”

 

 
Pastor Victor Rodriguez, Enlace Chicago, Little Village:

Charles Brown, Action Now, Englewood:

Sonovia Petty, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, Austin:

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King Day: Occupy the Fed, foreclosures, schools http://www.newstips.org/2012/01/king-day-occupy-the-fed-foreclosures-schools/ Sat, 14 Jan 2012 01:29:58 +0000 http://www.newstips.org/?p=5448 The civil rights movement, the Occupy movement, and community organizations will come together for a series of events marking Martin Luther King’s birthday this week, including a demonstration Monday at the Federal Reserve led by African American clergy including Rev. Jesse Jackson.

At the time of his assassination, King was organizing an “occupation” of Washington D.C., and after his death thousands of people occupied Resurrection City there from May 12 to June 24, 1968, demanding jobs, housing and an economic bill of rights.

In other King Day activities, housing rights groups are stepping up the drive to occupy foreclosures, and teachers and community groups are demonstrating against school “turnarounds.”

Over a thousand community activists are expected for an Occupy the Dream event (Sunday, January 15 at 3 p.m. at People’s Church, 941 W. Lawrence), where elected officials will be called on to support jobs and tax reform, including closing corporate tax loopholes and instituting a financial transaction tax.

It’s sponsored by IIRON, a regional organizing network that includes Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, Northside POWER, and the Northwest Indiana Federation. Occupy Chicago has endorsed the event.

“We are organizing in the tradition of the civil rights movement,” said Rev. Dwight Gardner of Gary, president of the Northwest Indiana Federation.

“In Dr. King’s very last sermon, he warned us not to sleep through a time of great change like Rip Van Winkle,” he said. “This is a moment of great change and we must put our souls in motion to occupy his dream.”

At the Fed: National Day of Action

Monday’s action at the Federal Reserve (Jackson and LaSalle, January 16, 3 p.m.) is part of a national day of action to “Occupy the Fed” by the Occupy the Dream campaign, with African American church leaders moblizing multicultural, interfaith rallies in 13 cities.  They’ll be emphasizing racially discriminatory practices by banks which have resulted in high foreclosure rates, as well as the issue of student debt.

“There needs to be economic equality, there needs to be jobs for all, there needs to be opportunities for the next generation,” said Rev. Jamal Bryant of Occupy the Dream.

“It’s consistent with the Poor People’s Campaign of holding people accountable who have benefited from the labor of working people and used their influence to create inequality,” said Rev. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago coordinator of the effort.

On Tuesday, Northside POWER and other groups will visit Bank of America (135 S. LaSalle) at 3:30 p.m. to demand help for a North Side family facing foreclosure; the bank has refused mediation for the family, which has applied for the Hardest Hit foreclosure relief program, said Kristi Sanford.

They’ll also visit Attorney General Lisa Madigan, demanding she withdraw from the proposed settlement of the robosigning fraud case by state attorney generals and the U.S. Department of Justice.  The settlement would fine banks “a pittance” and absolve them of all liability, Sanford said.  Attorney generals in New York and California have withdrawn.

Sanford said an effort to occupy a foreclosed home and launch an eviction resistance campaign is also underway.

Working the grassroots against eviction

Meanwhile, groups organizing against foreclosure and eviction have come together in the national network Occupy Our Homes, and they’ll go door-to-door Sunday and Monday, reaching out to families facing foreclosure and their neighbors.

Training sessions for canvassers will be held on Sunday, January 15 at 10 a.m. in Albany Park (at Centro Autonomo, 3630 W. Lawrence) and Monday at 10 a.m. on the South Side (Sankofa Center, 1401 E. 75th) and the West Side (a foreclosed property at 2655 W. Melvina and the Third Unitarian Church, 311 N. Mayfield), and volunteers will canvass those areas from 11 to 3 on the respective days.

Homeowners will be connected with legal resources and encouraged to consider staying in their homes after foreclosure, said Loren Taylor of Occupy Our Homes.

The foreclosure process is unfairly stacked toward lenders, banks have engaged in “massive, massive fraud,” and the banks which refuse to help homeowners have received government bailouts in the trillions of dollars, Taylor said.

Participating groups include the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, and the Albany Park Neighborhood Council, which has worked with renters in foreclosed buildings.

School marches mark King’s Chicago legacy

Also Monday, demonstrations against educational inequality – and against school “turnarounds” – will take place in areas made famous by Martin Luther King’s 1966 Chicago campaign.

At 10:30 a.m., the Chicago Teachers Union and community allies will march for education justice and “quality schools for all” at Marquette Elementary, 6550 S. Richmond, just south of the park where King was hit by a brick while marching for fair housing in 1966.

Today the school is 99 percent black and Latino – and slated for a “turnaround” by Academy of Urban School Leadership (AUSL). CTU argues that all schools should have small class sizes, a well-rounded curriculum, and supportive services.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, Blocks Together and other supporters of Casals Elementary, 3501 W. Potomac, will go door-to-door to inform neighbors of parent efforts to stop the transfer of that school to AUSL.

And at 1 p.m. on Monday, North Lawndale residents including members of Action Now will hold a press conference and march from Dvorak Elementary, 3615 W. 16th, past the site where King lived in Lawndale in 1966, to Herzl Elementary, 3711 W. Douglas.  They’re opposing Herzl’s “turnaround” by AUSL – and they fear Dvorak is next, said Aileen Kelleher of Action Now.

Parents maintain that CPS neglects neighborhood schools serving low-income minority children, setting them up for failure so they can be turned over to AUSL or charter schools, Kelleher said

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