PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday July 8th, 2014, 4:48pm

Chicago Mayoral Task Force Recommends $13 Minimum Wage (VIDEO)

A task force appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suggested bumping the city's minimum wage gradually to $13 an hour by 2018. Progress Illinois provides highlights from Tuesday's press conference about the commission's plan.

A task force appointed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has suggested bumping the city's minimum wage gradually to $13 an hour by 2018.

The task force of aldermen, labor and business representatives, formally appointed by the mayor on May 20, was charged with researching and gathering public comment about increasing the city's minimum wage. The Minimum Wage Working Group submitted its final report to the mayor on Tuesday. The mayor formed the commission shortly after a group of council members introduced an ordinance, co-sponsored by 21 aldermen, seeking to hike Chicago's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. The state and federal minimum wages are currently $8.25 and $7.25, respectively.

At a news conference this morning, Emanuel said a $13 minimum wage ordinance modeled after the task force's plan will be introduced at this month's Chicago City Council meeting. Emanuel and members of the Minimum Wage Working Group, however, said a vote on the ordinance will be delayed until after the November General Election, so as not to dissuade Springfield lawmakers from taking up a statewide minimum wage hike during the fall veto session.

Illinois voters also have an opportunity to weigh in on a non-binding ballot referendum in November about raising the state's minimum wage. The November advisory ballot referendum will ask, “Shall the minimum wage in Illinois for adults over the age of 18 be raised to $10 per hour by January 1, 2015?”

"We don't want to stand in the way of workers around the state of Illinois getting a raise," said Ald. Will Burns (4th), one of the Minimum Wage Working Group's co-chairs. "We don't want to be the reason why the legislature doesn't act, which is why we're holding off on doing anything until after the November elections and the veto session, because we want the legislature after the referendum vote is taken to do what they need to do in terms of raising [the minimum wage] to $10.65" as one pending state bill looks to achieve.  

In the meantime, Emanuel said he has asked the task force and others to hold community meetings to keep the discussion going about raising the city's minimum wage. 

"Nobody who works should raise a child in poverty. That's the American way," Emanuel said. "And our effort here is to make sure the city of Chicago is on record as it relates to raising the minimum wage ... Our goal is that the state will do it. If they don't, we're poised to act, and the work has been done, and the city council will be ready to act."

Emanuel dismissed assertions by some that the November advisory ballot referendum is a move to get more Democrats to vote and that raising the minimum wage is a way to win points at the polls.

It is a "cynical charge," Emanuel said, that "'Oh, we're only doing this for the election.'"

"No, we're doing this to make sure that those who work for a living, work to make ends meet, have a paycheck that starts on the first but falls short by the 30th, they have what they need to make sure that the minimum wage actually pays [to meet] the goal of no child whose parent works is raised in poverty," he said.

Even if the state adopts a minimum wage in the $10 range, a $13 minimum wage in the city would still be appropriate because there is "a significant difference in the cost of living in the Chicago metro [area] and the rest of the state," said the task force's other co-chair John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. 

The task force voted 14-3 to adopt the proposal to raise Chicago's hourly minimum wage from $8.25 to $13 by 2018, a move that will benefit approximately 410,000 workers and boost the city's economy by $800 million over four years, according to the panel's report. A $13 minimum wage, according to the report, could increase prices by up to 2 percent. 

The three 'no' votes came from members of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA). Some of the business representatives on the task force raised concerns that a city minimum wage hike could put local retailers at a competitive disadvantage and make it harder for them to hire, while others said they would prefer to see a uniform minimum wage in the state.

“The IRA supports a reasonable increase to the minimum wage that is considered at the state level versus a piecemeal approach that is proposed by each municipality,” the IRA's President Sam Toia told the Chicago Tribune.

But Emanuel said a perk for businesses of raising the minimum wage is that "you get loyalty of workers."

"You raise the minimum wage, companies won't have to be constantly searching for workers," he said. "They'll find loyal workers who will stay, and you will save money on the training that goes with it."

He noted that the city has helped local firms in a variety of ways, such as establishing a microlending program for small businesses, consolidating business licenses, eliminating the per-employee head tax and creating worker training programs.

"It's not a zero-sum game," the mayor said. "We have made sure that businesses get the help they need, now it's time to make sure the people that work also get the help they need with a raise in the minimum wage."

Here's more from Emanuel:

Under the task force's plan, the city's minimum wage would increase by $1.25 in each of the next three years and $1 in 2018 to hit the $13 level. The city's minimum wage would be adjusted each year after 2018 to keep pace with inflation. The tipped minimum wage, which is currently $4.95 at the state level, would be lifted by $1 to $5.95 over two years and indexed to inflation after that.

Burns said the minimum wage phase-in approach is meant to make it easier for small businesses to comply. 

"We did not want to hurt small businesses," the alderman said. "There were a number of small business leaders that came to our public meetings and shared their stories with us  ... The data show when you phase in the higher minimum wage, you allow business to prepare for their increased costs and then you also still at the same time are creating a stimulus to the economy, which will also help businesses."

After Tuesday's press conference, Progress Illinois caught up with Matt Brandon, SEIU* Local 73 secretary treasurer and a member of the Minimum Wage Working Group. Brandon, who said he was a strong supporter on the commission for a hourly minimum wage of $15 or higher, "did not want to take a position and stop progress" on the issue of boosting the city's minimum wage.

"This is the beginning and I think it's a place that you build on, instead of just standing in one spot," he said.

Here's more from Brandon:

Meanwhile, Grassroots Collaborative Executive Director Amisha Patel with the Raise Chicago coalition, which has been advocating for a $15 minimum wage in the city, said $13 an hour "is a step, and it's good, but it's not enough." 

"If the rate goes up to $13 an hour versus $15, those $2 would make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of families in Chicago," Patel said. "The more dollars that low-wage workers have in their pockets, the more they spend. They spend it in their neighborhoods ... They're not saving it in offshore bank accounts. They're using it to meet the needs of their families."

Raise Chicago also issued this statement in response to the task force's recommendations:

The members of the Raise Chicago coalition have been organizing and fighting for years to establish a fair minimum wage in the city of Chicago. These efforts paid off when 87% of voters supported the ballot referendum for a $15 minimum wage in Chicago. A group of Chicago Aldermen listened to the voters and introduced an ordinance that would lift a huge number of workers out of poverty by creating a minimum wage of $15. While the Mayor’s Minimum Wage Working Group took a good first step by recommending a $13 minimum wage, it is still not what the people of Chicago want or need. 

The proposed four year phase-in period means that the poorest workers will only see small increases that barely impact their ability to meet expenses. A $13 minimum wage in 2018 would only be 9 cents above the federal poverty line, which would keep Chicagoans entrenched in a cycle of violence and poverty. 

The mayor's commission lets multi-million dollar corporations like McDonald's and Walmart, those who can well afford to pay their workers $15, off the hook. The commission's recommendation for a $1 raise for tipped workers is also unacceptable.  According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget calculator, a family of one parent and one child will need to make at least $23.36 an hour to survive in 2018.

When the Minimum Wage Working Group held public hearings to get feedback from Chicagoans on what the minimum wage should be, the overwhelming response by workers and community members was a demand of $15 an hour.

Some quotes from the hearings:

  • “I want to be able to see my babies. I have to work 8 hours during the day and 8 hours at night and I only see my babies for an hour or two. We need $15.” - Dominique Brymdon, a worker with the Fight For 15 campaign
  • “Taking care of seniors and children is a needed career. Our work should not be at the minimum, we should be at the highest level, so I support $15 an hour.” – Fatimah Al-Nurridin, SEIU homecare worker
  • “The crime is due to poverty. If you want to eliminate crime, you have to eliminate poverty.” - Sherry West, Chicago resident

Sherry West’s statement about the connection between poverty and crime speaks to this past 4th of July weekend when 82 people were shot and 14 people were killed in Chicago. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has refused to address this recent surge in violence destroying Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. The mayor’s lack of response to this crisis mirrors his disregard for the voice of voters who have demanded a $15 minimum wage.

Raise Chicago, Patel said, will continue to push for the $15 minimum wage ordinance, which would have a faster phase-in period for larger corporations. The coalition is holding a press conference at City Hall Wednesday to "speak out about the commission's recommendations."

Coalition members also plan to engage voters on the minimum wage issue. Aldermen and Emanuel are up for re-election next year. The mayor's efforts to raise the minimum wage is "absolutely linked to that election," Patel said.

Issues concerning wages, housing and violence are "top issues in the city that people care about and ... will certainly be on their minds when it comes to February 2015," she said. "We're going to be talking with voters, and I think this is a key issue" they will consider at the polls. 

Also pushing for a $15 minimum wage is the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, a union of fast food and retail workers. The union issued the following statement in response to the recommendations from Emanuel's task force:

The Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC) of the Fight for 15 is proud to be at the forefront of the living wage movement in Chicago. For almost two years, hundreds of Chicago fast food workers have fought endlessly for a $15 living wage and the right to form a union without retaliation. WOCC members have gone out on strike five times, have held more than 50 actions across the city, and most recently took part in the largest ever labor protest at McDonald’s Headquarters that culminated in the arrest of 101 McDonald’s workers. Any recommendation that is less than $15 is an insult to the hundreds of fast food workers that have risked their jobs and made sacrifices for the well-being of this city. Chicago fast food workers will not sit back and wait for politicians to act, we will continue to bring our fight to the $200 billion a year fast food industry until we win.

In the Chicago metro area there are 80,930 frontline fast food workers. An adult with one child needs to make $20.86 an hour working full time in the Chicago area just to afford the basics, according to a model developed by a professor at MIT.

Make sure to check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.

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