May Day – International Workers Day – is upon us. There will be global celebrations on May 1, recognizing those of us who work from necessity. It is a day to reflect on the work we do in the labor market, at home and in our communities.

May Day is linked to Chicago by the fight for the eight-hour day: “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what we will.” That seems quaint today. Worker productivity has been increasing because we must do more with less to keep our jobs: work longer hours, work off the clock, suffer from unpaid sick days and work as independent contractors without benefits. This benefit of increased productivity has not trickled down to the producers.

Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered a State of the Union address unveiling a “second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all.” This laid out the idea that equality in the pursuit of happiness requires a useful job that provides adequate food, clothing, recreation and a decent home. The bill would also provide adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment.

When we work, we shouldn’t labor for wages that keep us in poverty. We should earn enough to support ourselves and our families. The minimum wage miserably fails this standard.

Fighting poverty is the goal behind living wage ordinances enacted around the country. Recently, the Obama administration indicated that the U.S. government will favor contractors who provide good pay and benefits to their employees. This is good public policy for Oak Park.

After the holiday season last year, the Oak Park Food Pantry announced that its clients come primarily from Oak Park, Austin and Humboldt Park. How to respond?

In November 2008, this referendum was on the Oak Park ballot: “Shall the Village of Oak Park enact a living wage ordinance stipulating that a) village employees, b) employees of contractors or subcontractors performing work for the village, and c) employees of businesses that receive a significant financial subsidy from the village receive a living wage indexed to inflation that would include health benefits and paid time off?” Sixty percent of us voted yes. Our village board then tasked the Community Relations Commission with researching the impact that a living wage ordinance would have on our village. The commission is a volunteer group of Oak Parkers appointed by the board. After 13 months of dedicated research, the commission voted 7-2, recommending our village board enact a comprehensive living wage ordinance

When our village hires workers, contracts others to do work for us or provides significant dollars to businesses in our community, employees must also share in our generosity. Our village board should enact a comprehensive living wage ordinance now. Poverty wages are hard to live on and we can make a difference.

• Oak Parker Tom Broderick is co-chair of the Greater Oak Park Democratic Socialists of America and co-sponsor of the village’s living wage ordinance.

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