PI Original Ellyn Fortino Wednesday May 28th, 2014, 6:49pm

Chicago City Council Roundup: Ridesharing, Guns, Sweatshops, SROs & $15 Minimum Wage

Progress Illinois provides highlights from Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's ordinance to place some regulations on ride-sharing companies passed through the full city council Wednesday by a 34-10 vote.

The 'no' votes came from Alds. Bob Fioretti (2nd), Pat Dowell (3rd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Anthony Beale (9th), Lona Lane (18th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Michael Zalewski (23rd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).

Before the ordinance's passage, some aldermen attempted to delay the ride-sharing vote and send the measure back to committee for changes. Those efforts did not garner enough support in the council.

On the council floor, Beale said the ordinance is not tough enough on ride-sharing firms and "will hurt the hardworking men and women that are driving cabs every single day." Taxi medallions in Chicago, which cost about $360,000, "will be useless if this ordinance passes," Beale said before asking the council to consider delaying the vote so the measure could be amended.

The ordinance includes a number of safety regulations and oversight measures for the ride-sharing industry. It creates a new "transportation network provider" license for ride-sharing firms such as Uber X, Lyft and SideCar, which are not currently licensed. Under the measure, the new license would come with stricter requirements for service providers that have company-wide driver averages of more than 20 hours per week, including a mandate that drivers also obtain public chauffeur licenses. 

In addition, ride-sharing companies must publicly announce when surge-pricing periods during times of high demand are in effect. Under the measure, the city is allowed to place a cap on surge-pricing "if the increased disclosure requirements do not alleviate customer complaints," according to the mayor's office. 

The ordinance does contain various benefits for the taxi industry. For example, taxi inspections for vehicles up to 2 years old would be required only once per year under the new ordinance, opposed to the current two inspections per year.

Before the vote, Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) explained that the contentious debate surrounding the ride-sharing ordinance is "not about cab drivers. It's about the medallion owners, and the medallion owners have not been treating these cab drivers right."

Ald. Toni Foulkes (5th), who supported the ordinance, said ridesharing programs provide more transportation options in underserved communities as well as job opportunities. It is currently difficult for the public to pick up a cab in certain parts of the South Side, such as Englewood, she added.

"You all need to think a little bit how you treat (the) South Side and give us more cabs out there," Foulkes said at the council meeting, which saw attendance from a group of cab drivers and their supporters.

Gun Shops In Chicago

Emanuel introduced an ordinance at Wednesday's Chicago City Council meeting that would bar gun shops from opening in almost all parts of the city.

The mayor's pending measure would prevent gun retailers from setting up shop in 99.5 percent of the city through the use of special-use zoning. Additionally, gun shops could not open within 500 feet of schools and parks.

Under the proposed ordinance, gun shop owners would have to videotape all gun sales and could only sell one handgun per month to the same buyer. Among other requirements, gun dealers allowed to open in Chicago would have to keep quarterly gun-sale audits and make their records available to police for review. 

The ordinance comes in response to a January ruling from a federal judge, who said Chicago's ban on gun sales "goes too far." As part of the court ruling, city officials were given a July 14 deadline to determine how commercial gun sales can occur within Chicago.

"Gun control is essential to our public safety," Emanuel said in remarks to reporters after the council meeting, noting that the city of Chicago "does not have a problem of too few guns."

The mayor explained that many guns from shops in Cook County, neighboring states and elsewhere wind up within city limits. A new report from the mayor's office, the police department and the University of Chicago Crime Lab also found that the Chicago Police Department "recovers 7 times as many crime guns as New York City and more than twice as many as Los Angeles" per capita.

"In any given weekend, our police officers take more guns off the streets than either in New York or LA," Emanuel said. "Given that there's a court order, I think we've done the right thing and in the most smart, tough, and enforceable manner."

$15 Minimum Wage In Chicago?

A group of aldermen, including members of the council's Progressive Reform Caucus, introduced an ordinance to gradually raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The $15 minimum wage ordinance saw support at City Hall before the council meeting from dozens of Raise Chicago coalition members, who have been organizing around a minimum wage hike in the city for a year and a half. The organizers were joined by Alds. Moreno, Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th) and members of the progressive caucus, including Alds. Arena, Fioretti, Foulkes, Munoz, Sawyer, Sposato and Waguespack.

Gloria Warner, Raise Chicago coalition member and president of Action Now, noted that more than one-third of children in Chicago live below the poverty line.

"Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Chicago is one of the most important things we can do for working families, communities and the economy," she said. "If the mayor and city council is serious about reducing violence and helping the kids do better in school, then they need to create a minimum wage of $15 an hour for Chicago workers."

Under the proposed ordinance, large employers in Chicago making at least $50 million annually would have 90 days to raise their employees' wages to $12.50 an hour, including workers at their subsidiaries and franchise locations. Large employers would then have to raise workers' hourly wages to the $15 level within one year of the measure taking effect.

Businesses with less than $50 million in annual revenue would have a different minimum wage phase-in period. Small and mid-sized businesses would have to increase their base hourly wage to $12 within 15 months. After that, the smaller employers would have to increase their minimum wage by $1 each year until they hit the $15 level by 2018.

Under the ordinance, the city's minimum wage would be adjusted each year after 2018 to keep pace with inflation. The base hourly wage for tipped workers, which is $4.95 an hour in Illinois, would be 70 percent of the overall minimum wage.

Sawyer acknowledged there are concerns about how a $15 minimum wage would impact small businesses in Chicago. But he pointed out that raising the minimum wage means "we give people more money to spend."

"When more money is generated in the economy, that means more sales tax revenue. More revenue to all the other businesses that sell to these employees," the alderman said. "It's an all-around good thing if we do it correctly."

Raising the city's hourly minimum wage to $15 would also benefit Chicago's economy, Sawyer and other aldermen noted.

A new report by the Center for Popular Democracy, for example, showed that a $15 minimum wage at just the largest businesses in Chicago would mean an estimated $616 million in new economic activity across the region, the creation of 5,350 new jobs and approximately $45 million in new sales tax revenue, among other benefits.

Moreno added that a $15 hourly minimum wage is "very reasonable," noting that those who argue such a hike would negatively impact businesses are really saying that it would possibly "hurt the people at the top."

"It's not going to hurt business," the alderman stressed. "It never has. Raising the minimum wage in the United States has never, ever hurt the broader economy ... All we're asking is to have a fair economy. Our economy has been splintered to those at the top having way more. The middle class is shrinking. We want the middle class to grow."

Moreno also pointed out that, "When someone in this city says, 'I'm going to pay you the minimum wage.' You know what they're telling you? 'If I could pay you less, I would.'"

Aldermen and others noted that the public generally backs a $15 minimum wage in the city. They pointed to the March primary election when Chicago voters overwhelming supported a non-binding ballot referendum to increase the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour at businesses with annual revenues over $50 million. The referendum appeared on the ballot in 103 city precincts, garnering 87 percent of voters' support.

"This is not an issue of voter support, but political will," said Amisha Patel with the Grassroots Collaborative, a group with the Raise Chicago coalition.  "Will aldermen vote to raise their own six figure salaries in this next year, yet deny $15 an hour to low-wage workers in Chicago? We need elected officials with a political will to give Chicagoans not just a raise, but the raise they deserve."

Darlene Pruitt, a home healthcare aide who makes $10.65 an hour, was one of many low-wage workers who said the expensive cost of living in Chicago makes it a struggle each month to pay for basic necessities.

"I have to choose between food and medication," she said. "I spend a lot of time worrying about keeping up with my bills, and I'm not just worried about myself. I have three kids."

The $15 minimum wage ordinance comes about a week after Emanuel announced the creation of a new task force charged with developing a plan to increase the wages of hourly minimum wage and tipped workers in the city. 

Patel said the new task force shows that the mayor is responding to the groups pushing for a minimum wage increase. When asked whether the Raise Chicago coalition would be willing to settle on a minimum wage hike that is less than $15 an hour, Patel said, "It's too early to have that conversation. We're starting at $15 an hour because that's what folks need in this city."

There are concerns, Patel said, that the mayor's commission could come back with a minimum wage proposal less than the $15 level.

"If they come up with something short, we'll have to have that conversation then, but we're not going to stop the organizing," she stressed.

Emanuel, Aldermen Introduce "Sweatshop-Free" Ordinance

Emanuel and a group of aldermen introduced a "sweatshop-free" procurement ordinance that seeks to ensure that tax dollars are not used to purchase city uniforms or other garments manufactured in sweatshops or with child labor. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) is the main sponsor of the ordinance, which also has support from the council's Latino and Asian American caucuses.

Pawar called the mayor-backed ordinance a "humane thing to do," noting that some 40 other U.S. cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle have enacted similar sweatshop-free garment procurement measures.

"I believe this is a progressive action to ensure that we do the right thing, not just here in Chicago, but also set the tone for other cities around the country," the alderman said.

The push for anti-sweatshop measures across the country comes in response to recent factory fires and building collapses, including the April 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy. The eight-story Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh that contained several garment factories producing clothing for western consumers, collapsed and killed more than 1,100 workers and injured thousands more.

Katherine Bissell Cordova, executive director of the Chicago Fair Trade coalition, a group that helped develop the measure, said the city of Chicago spends millions of dollars on uniforms annually. It is extremely difficult to learn where and how the city's uniforms are produced, she said, adding that the Chicago Fair Trade coalition does not know whether the city is currently procuring sweatshop-made uniforms. But generally, Bissell Cordova said, various types of uniforms are often produced in sweatshops.

"This ordinance would let us know," she noted. "We want transparency. We want to know that our police and our firefighters that are working to keep us safe are not wearing uniforms made in unsafe workplaces, sweatshops, that are often themselves fire traps."

If approved, the ordinance would take effect on January 1, 2015.

On or after that date, city contract garment vendors and their subcontractors would have to disclose "the contractor's supply chain for the performance of the contract" and sign affidavits verifying that there are no sweatshops within their supply chain.

The city's chief procurement officer could find the contract to be in default if a contractor fails to disclose such information.

Under the measure, the city's chief procurement officer could take a number of actions, such as granting noncompliant contractors 30 days to remove sweatshops from their supply chain, or terminating the contract and rebidding the remaining contract amount, according to the ordinance. The city also has the ability to "prosecute any person who knowingly makes a false statement of material of fact to the city."

The ordinance defines sweatshop labor as "any work performed by a person engaged by a contractor or subcontractor which has habitually violated laws of any applicable jurisdiction governing wages, employee benefits, occupational health and safety, nondiscrimination, or freedom of association." It also means "any work performed by a person engaged by a contractor or subcontractor that constitutes foreign convict or forced labor, or abusive forms of child labor or slave labor."

Ald. Rey Colon (35th) said sweatshops are a "form of modern day slavery."

"To use children, to overwork them, to underpay them and to then support them by using government funds to support those type of practices, that's not the economy that we want to support," Colon stressed.

Bissell Cordova said for the measure to have the biggest impact, there needs to be an investigation and enforcement process. As such, the Chicago Fair Trade coalition wants the city of Chicago to join the Sweatfree Purchasing Consortium, which pools resources from government members to monitor working conditions and enforce "sweatfree" standards in factories. The consortium also lists "ethical" uniform suppliers on its website.

Ordinance To Preserve SRO Housing

Also prior to Wednesday's council meeting, advocates for preserving single room occupancy hotels (SROs) in Chicago said an ordinance meant to maintain affordable housing in the city will be ready for introduction next month. 

The SRO advocacy coalition Chicago for All and a group of aldermen are working with the mayor's office to develop a "Single Room Occupancy and Residential Hotel Stabilization" ordinance.

"SROs provide long-term housing for over 6,000 elderly, people with disabilities, veterans and working poor across this city," said Robert Rohdenburg, who relies on SROs for his housing. "For low-income people, SRO hotel rooms are the only housing they can afford. The SRO crisis is a growing problem."

Chicago for All members explained that more than 2,200 SRO units in the city have been lost to market rate development over the past three years. 

The ordinance would require SRO owners to obtain a permit from the city's Department of Planning and Development if they want to make "any significant structural changes that could potentially make the building not affordable," said Vivien Tsou with ONE Northside, the group leading Chicago for All. The permit would only be granted if SRO property owners agree to keep the units as affordable housing or re-build similar affordable units in the same community. SRO property owners would also have the option to opt-out of obtaining a permit if they pay a fee. Tsou said the coalition, aldermen and city officials are currently working out the details on the permit opt-out fee. 

Other U.S. cities have similar policies in place to maintain SRO housing, such as San Francisco and New York City, among others.

A SRO preservation and improvement fund would be created as part of the ordinance to help building owners maintain their properties as affordable, Tsou said. The fund would get its revenue from the permit opt-out fees, and possibly other resources from the city. A new committee would be formed to determine how to use the funds to develop "initiatives to encourage and incentivize single room occupancy and residential hotel property owners to maintain their ... properties as decent, safe and affordable housing for the residents of the city of Chicago," the draft ordinance reads.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) is one of the lead sponsors of the measure, which has the backing of at least eight other council members including Alds. Arena, Fioretti, Moreno, Pawar, Waguespack, Michele Smith (43rd), Tom Tunney (44th) and James Cappleman (46th).

"We need to be a humane society that helps everyone to do well," Burnett said. "This ordinance is just ... making sure that people who are currently living in affordable housing continue to live in affordable housing, but also have an opportunity to get that affordable housing in hand."

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