Citing a lack of economic opportunities as the driving force behind the high rate of gun violence in Chicago over the last several years, Illinois 2nd Congressional District candidate Robin Kelly stood alongside union security officers Saturday to call on the city’s downtown building owners to provide fairer compensation for their emergency “first responders.”
The democratic nominee to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., held a press conference with members of SEIU* Local 1, who represent more than 2,000 Chicago security officers, as the organization prepares to enter into negotiations next month with building owners and contractors over a new contract.
Speaking in front of about 20 security officers, Kelly thanked them for their efforts in helping to keep the city safe, adding that downtown building owners should provide the workers with stability through a “livable wage” in the same way the guards provide safety when responding to an emergency.
“These are people who protect us,” Kelly said. “They’re giving their all, they’re giving their best to protect us, we need to protect them so they can eat, buy medicine, pay rent and all the things they need to do to live a quality life.”
Rita Young, a security officer for three years, said the $11.05 she makes an hour simply is not enough in light of the potential risks she faces each day at work.
“I live with fear at work sometimes,” Young said. “We are the first responders putting our lives on the line.”
Here is more from the press conference:
SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said that for many of the downtown security officers, the risks involved in their jobs pale in comparison to the dangers they face within the neighborhoods they reside; communities he contends have become unsafe over time due to a lack of opportunities for a sustainable life.
“Security officers downtown and throughout this city work hard to make sure that buildings are safe, and tenants are safe,” Balanoff said. “Oftentimes based on what they earn, they have to go home to communities that are not safe. They are not safe for one reason, and that reason is that people don’t have jobs, and many of the jobs they do have don’t really provide sustainable wages.”
Indeed, data from the city’s Department of Public Health suggests a link between the rate of poverty and the rate of violent crime. From 2004 to 2008, neighborhoods that had the highest murder rates also had some of the city’s highest rates of poverty and unemployment.
By providing workers with better wages, Balanoff said it would help toward revitalizing those affected neighborhoods and reducing the level of violence in a city that saw more than 500 murders in 2012, and more than 60 so far in 2013.
“It’s time that we have a real recovery in this country,” Balanoff said. “We need to really start to understand that if we’re going to return this country to its greatness, we need to start returning the promise of America to working people.”
Kelly, whose primary campaign’s focus on stopping gun violence was greatly helped by a heavy barrage of TV advertising paid by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s super PAC Independence USA, says providing more good paying jobs is key toward eliminating a lot of the hopelessness felt throughout many violent neighborhoods.
“First and foremost people want jobs, and if people have jobs, then they may not have to do the other things that some people turn to,” Kelly said. “If you don’t have any money, worrying about a roof over your head, it’s tough to take advantage of opportunities that would get you into a better situation.”
Here is more from Balanoff and Kelly:
The downtown security officers’ contract ends April 21. According to SEIU, the average hourly pay for security officers is around $10. SEIU member Jimmy Felton, who has worked as a security officer for the past 11 years, says the union will seek to increase the hourly rate by about $3 an hour. “What we’re really looking for is respect,” Felton said.