PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday December 2nd, 2014, 3:13pm

Chicago City Council Approves $13 Minimum Wage, Worker Advocates Applaud

Chicago’s minimum wage will go up gradually to $13 an hour by 2019 under a mayor-backed plan that cleared the full city council by a 44-5 vote at a special meeting Tuesday. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the council debate and vote.

Chicago’s minimum wage will go up gradually to $13 an hour by 2019 under a mayor-backed plan that cleared the full city council by a 44-5 vote at a special meeting Tuesday.

Alds. Matthew O’Shea (19th), Mary O’Connor (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Michele Smith (43rd) and Tom Tunney (44th) voted ‘no’ on the wage hike after about two hours of council debate.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is up for election along with aldermen in February, wanted to take up the issue now before Springfield lawmakers pass legislation that could block Chicago from setting a minimum wage higher than the state’s. Illinois legislators could consider minimum wage legislation in the remaining days of the veto session.

When asked by reporters after the meeting about next steps if state lawmakers ultimately approve a measure preempting Chicago’s ordinance, Emanuel said, “The council believes we have legal standing to go forward” with a higher minimum wage.

“My fervent hope is that the state of Illinois actually raises their minimum wage, and they’ll see this action as a jolt to action,” the mayor added. “Last week, a lot of people thought there were not [enough] votes for the minimum wage, and I’m thinking this will actually inspire and be an inspiration to actually take a step forward and do that.”

The newly-approved Chicago ordinance is slightly different than an initial proposal put forward by Emanuel’s minimum wage working group in July that looked to bump the city’s base hourly wage from the current $8.25 to $13 by 2018. The latest measure piggybacks off of pending state legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D- Maywood), that would increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $11 by 2017. 

Under Tuesday’s council-approved plan, Chicago’s hourly minimum wage will increase to $10 in July and incrementally thereafter to reach the $13 level in 2019. After 2019, the minimum wage will be adjusted annually for inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, with such increases capped at 2.5 percent. However, there will be no future inflationary hikes to the minimum wage after 2019 in any year when the unemployment rate is 8.5 percent or greater.

The tipped minimum wage, which is currently $4.95 at the state level, will be lifted by $1 to $5.95 by 2016 and indexed to inflation after that.

“Today, we celebrate with everyone who fought hard for this victory,” Amisha Patel, executive director of Grassroots Illinois Action, said in a statement after the vote. “In the past seven days, the mayor has shown us what is possible when he has the political will to make things happen. He could have given Chicago a raise years ago. Chicago families need progress every year, not just during election year.”

After the meeting, Emanuel dismissed the notion that the push for a minimum wage hike is about winning over voters.

The minimum wage, he explained, has been frozen at the federal level since 2007. Lawmakers would have moved on minimum wage increases ahead of the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections if the issue “was only about elections,” Emanuel told reporters.

“There’s a lot of elections before the last time it was raised,” the mayor stressed, though he did not directly comment on the fact that an increase was approved amid his own re-election bid.

Emanuel’s top two mayoral challengers — Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia — favor a $15 minimum wage.

Fioretti, along with his colleagues on the Progressive Reform Caucus and other aldermen, introduced a competing $15 minimum wage city council proposal back in May.

While the fight for $15 is not over, Emanuel’s $13 ordinance is a “first step on the road to give workers the dignity they deserve,” Fioretti said on the council floor.

In a statement after the meeting, Fioretti added:

Over the years, we’ve seen what happens when working people stand up and demand decent pay and respect. I want to thank the workers and all of the groups who’ve fought tirelessly to fight to better the lives of workers. 

While I’m proud to support today’s increase in the minimum wage, we can’t stop fighting now. Rahm Emanuel could’ve pushed this legislation earlier, and he could’ve pushed for $15 an hour today. The chant in the streets here and nationwide has been ‘show me $15,’ not ‘show me $13 by 2019.’

As mayor, I won’t stop fighting for Chicago workers and families, and I won’t back down when corporate interests try to push us around. I will continue to fight until Chicago workers get the living wages they deserve.

Garcia issued the following statement after the minimum wage vote:

Raising Chicago’s minimum wage will provide immediate relief to more than 400,000 of our fellow residents, who are struggling to survive on low wages. It will help our entire City by adding more than $800 million to the local economy. Those are the Mayor’s own numbers from his minimum wage commission, so I think it is fair to ask why did the Mayor wait so long to act. For a Mayor who is fond of saying he makes tough decisions, I think we have a right to ask why he did not make an easy one. Why didn’t he support a minimum wage hike during his first year in office? Why does he want to wait another five years before raising everyone to $13 an hour? Rents, restaurant prices and the cost of groceries are not going to wait another five years to go up. I continue to support a minimum wage increase that will  bring low wage workers up to $15 an hour. As Mayor, I will pass legislation to do that my first year in office — not my last.

On the council floor, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the mayor’s $13 plan will impact more than 400,000 Chicago workers and lift 70,000 people out of poverty, with minimal job loss. 

“That’s commendable, and it has my full support,” Dowell said, noting that nearly 30 percent of residents in her ward earn less than $13 an hour.

Ald. John Arena (45th), a lead sponsor of the $15 plan, supported the $13 ordinance. He said the council is “making positive steps in what we’re seeing here today,” but the city still needs “to get to $15.”

The revised $13 plan covers domestic workers, a new provision Arena and other aldermen applauded, but it still leaves out other workers.

“While this ordinance doesn’t get us to $15, it also still leaves disabled employees as second-class citizens. It leaves nursing home workers in a legal loophole that we have to address with the state, and it takes five years to get to $13 an hour,” Arena said. “That’s a long time. It’s not overnight.”

Groups that lobbied aldermen against a $13 minimum wage included the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, Illinois Restaurant Association and Illinois Retail Merchants Association, who argued it would be unfair to businesses if Chicago had a minimum wage higher than elsewhere in the state. The groups want Springfield lawmakers to “act immediately to provide fairness, consistency and certainty on minimum wage throughout Illinois.”

“Mayor Emanuel’s unilateral decision to move ahead with City Council action to raise the minimum wage this week virtually eliminates the possibility for a uniform, fair statewide increase that puts workers, businesses and communities all on a level playing field,” the groups said in a joint statement on Monday. “Make no mistake, this will cost thousands of low wage jobs throughout Illinois as businesses flee. Further, it puts at severe risk the small businesses in border communities throughout Chicago that neighbor the suburbs and Indiana. Such an increase will permanently depress new business development and hiring.”

Before casting his ‘no’ vote, Ald. Tunney, a restaurant owner, agreed with industry groups that there should be a uniform minimum wage in the state.

“None of us dispute the fact that wages need to go up,” he said. “Our concern is that we have a level playing field, that our wages in Englewood, in Beverly, in Edison Park are the same in Oak Lawn, in Skokie.”

A $13 minimum wage, the alderman added, could seriously harm small businesses and lead to job losses.

“Whatever the entry level wage is, when there is no company, there is no job,” he said.

Ald. Mary O’Connor, a catering company owner, also said the higher wage might force businesses to cut employees or leave the city.

“As much as I want to do this [wage increase], right now what’s happening, as luck would have it, my trucks are breaking. My kitchen equipment is breaking. So I’m not getting ahead, I’m still struggling to maintain,” she said. “We’re not talking about people with greed, we’re talking about survivors who believed in the American dream who are very passionate about their business and who care very deeply about their employees and consider them family. But if we can’t find a balance here, we’re going to run these businesses out of business.”

From the council dais, Emanuel addressed the concerns surrounding small businesses.

“From the per employee head tax, to the micro loan program, to eliminating 60 percent of the licenses that were on the books, and then consolidating the inspections, because time is money, small businesses have been helped,” he told the council members. “And it doesn’t mean you sit here and rest on your laurels. We have a lot more work to do. They are the vibrant part of the economy and our neighborhoods.

“But you cannot have a thriving small business on a workforce that is living on subsistent wages,” he continued. “And the minimum wage can’t stand alone. It’s part of a larger economic strategy.”


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