Written by: Zhenya Polozova, WWJ Policy Coordinator
When the City of Joliet announced it was running out of water and intended to triple the water rate for the average household to pay for a new pipeline to Lake Michigan, Warehouse Workers for Justice sprung into action. More than 20 local organizations and hundreds of community members have come together over the last two years to call on the Joliet Public Utilities Department to adopt a graduated water rate to minimize the cost increase for the region’s working families, as well as other changes to make water service more equitable and accessible.
Our organizing won the support of several members of Joliet’s city council, which led to the adoption of a graduated water rate with significant protections for low income residents – including the reclassification of renters from commercial to residential water users. This change in city policy will lower water bills for many working families. Another significant change, thanks to our organizing, is the Joliet Public Utilities Department adopting a standard operating procedure for residents at risk of losing water access. Now, the Utilities Department will explore all possible options to maintain the flow of water. Furthermore, a lifeline rate will be created to ensure that low-income households can afford the water they need to survive, and regressive, burdensome reconnection fees will be eliminated.
The work leading up to this victory has been substantial. Our coalition members spent hours on end door-knocking, talking to residents, organizing and participating in community outreach events, reaching out to ally organizations for insight and support, researching policies implemented in other cities, meeting with the Joliet Public Utilities Department to discuss the issues residents are facing, and so much more. We’re proud to say that all the hard work has paid off – we are thrilled to share this victory with you and with the hard working families of Joliet who will reap the benefits.
Will County, where Joliet is located, contains operations for approximately half of all Fortune 500 companies due to it being an epicenter for the logistics industry and home to CenterPoint, the largest inland port in North America. One of the key issues of our campaign was the fact that renters were paying the same rates as commercial and industrial water users despite these users consuming disproportionately more water. This billing practice was inequitable as many of the commercial and industrial users – warehouses owned by the wealthiest corporations in the world such as Amazon, Target, Home Depot – generate unimaginable profits in the millions and billions per day and can absolutely afford to pay more.
“Amazon, the largest employer in Joliet, made billions of dollars in profit during the pandemic, and yet have been paying the same exact water rates as single family renters in Joliet for years,” said Marcos Ceniceros, Executive Director of Warehouse Workers for Justice. “This is indicative of how our economy is fundamentally unfair and rigged against working people, who are ultimately the ones responsible for the profits of Amazon and all other corporations. We’re glad to see the City of Joliet moving in the right direction and we are committed to continuing to fight for all working people in Joliet and beyond.”
“We cannot understate the importance of this legislative win," said Cesar, At-Large Joliet City Council Member. “We have made significant progress in the efforts to create a more equitable water rate system. The success here in Joliet can now become a model to follow in neighboring municipalities. Yet we cannot relent. The fight for clean and affordable water will continue across the nation.”
"We are grateful for the leadership of Warehouse Workers for Justice and Councilors Guerrero and Ibarra to ensure Joliet's water rate policies prioritize the needs of working people,” said Ann Baskerville, Conservation Organizer with Sierra Club Illinois. “Joliet's Lake Michigan water allocation is a precious resource that will require decades of stewardship. The City should seek community feedback during the transition to Lake Michigan water to ensure affordability and community engagement during this historic project. We also encourage the City to research and enact water conservation policies, especially for the large industrial users in Joliet who have the most resources to invest in best practices to conserve Lake Michigan water.”