Aldermen discuss vote on minimum wage hike

by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI

Alderman Mary O’Connor (41st) was the only Northwest Side alderman to vote against an ordinance that will raise the minimum wage for all city workers from $8.25 per hour to $13 per hour by 2019.

O’Connor said that her ward borders nine suburbs and she is concerned that local businesses could be negatively affected by the proposal.

"I’m not opposed to raising the minimum wage, but I just felt that the City of Chicago should not have home rule over the state on an issue like this," O’Connor said. "This should be the state’s job."

O’Connor said that she has met with members of local chambers of commerce who have expressed concern about the effect that raising the wage will have on their businesses.

"They are small businesses that do not make millions of dollars, but little shops that employ local residents or provide opportunities for people to hold part-time jobs," O’Connor said. "There will be some consequences to this.

"Chambers have expressed concern. They would like to increase their profit margins to support this, but they are scared. They are scared that they might have to raise their prices and they don’t know if the community will continue to support them or walk across the street."

The City Council passed the ordinance 44-5, with O’Connor and Aldermen Brendan Reilly (42nd), Thomas Tunney (44th), Matthew O’Shea (19th) and Michele Smith (43rd) voting against it.

The ordinance will increase the minimum wage to $10 by July 1, to $10.50 in 2016, to $11 in 2017 and to $13 in 2019, with increases tied to inflation after that year but capped at 2.5 percent. The increase in minimum wage will increase earnings for about 410,000 city workers, add $860 million into the economy and lift 70,000 workers out of poverty, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The ordinance also increases the minimum wage for tipped workers in Chicago by $1 from the current state minimum of $4.95 to $5.45 as of July 1 and to $5.95 by July 1, 2016, with the rate indexed to inflation after that.

"A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who works in the city of Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty," Emanuel said in a statement. "Today Chicago has shown that our city is behind a fair working wage."

Alderman Nicholas Sposato (36th) said in a statement that he co-sponsored an ordinance in May that would have increased the wage to $15 over several years, but he signed on as co-sponsor to the current legislation. Sposato said that the current version of the ordinance is fair and that it will strengthen the economy and improve the lives of families.

The City Council moved swiftly to pass legislation because the Illinois General Assembly was considering setting a $10 statewide minimum wage, and aldermen were concerned that the legislation would preempt home rule and prevent Chicago from passing a higher minimum wage increase.

"I received a call that a special meeting of the City Council was being called to address the minimum wage issue before our hands could be tied by Springfield," Sposato said. "Thanks to the hard work that has been done over the last 6 months, we were able to agree on an ordinance that raises the minimum wage across a wide spectrum of our work force including tipped employees and domestic workers. As we move forward I will continue to work to amend this ordinance to ensure that all workers are covered."

Alderman John Arena (45th) said that he also co-sponsored the $15 wage increase ordinance but that he and the other aldermen in the council’s Progressive Caucus wanted to make sure that the ordinance contained certain provisions.

"We wanted to include some provisions like adding domestics workers and tipped workers and have stronger notification provisions," Arena said. "We had good negotiations that went on, and ultimately the conversation was productive."

Arena said that he disagrees with the argument that raising the minimum wage will push businesses out of the city.

"Every single time we talk about raising the minimum wage the argument comes up that businesses can’t survive," Arena said. "That’s simply not true. We can track the increases over time, which we’ve been doing since the ’60s against the rate of unemployment, and there is no connection in raising the minimum wage to unemployment. There is no correlation."

The Minimum Wage Working Group co-chaired by Alderman William Burns (4th) found that a 42 percent raise in the minimum wage would increase earnings for 36 percent of city workers.

"More than 400,000 Chicago workers will benefit from this increase in the local minimum wage," Burns said. "Raising the wage to $13 will have a positive impact on the entire city, but more importantly, it will help lift Chicago workers out of poverty and help them better provide for their children, who are the future of this city."

"The residents of the city of Chicago deserve a raise, and today we have taken an important step to ensure that more than 400,000 workers have a chance to reach the middle class," Alderman Patrick O’Connor (40th) said in a statement. "It is a good day for the city of Chicago and for its residents."

Alderman Ariel Reboyras (30th) said that $13 an hour is a proper choice for the minimum wage increase.

"We realize that small businesses are upset and that minimum wage was always for people who were working part-time and not full-time to raise a family, but times have changed," Reboyras said. "There is no way anyone can live on $8.25 in this economy. It will affect some businesses and leave some storefronts empty, but we will be helping 400,000 people. This is good for Chicago and good for the economy.

"I don’t think it will push people out, but I think that it will minimize their profits or their bottom line," Reboyras said.

Alderman Margaret Laurino (39th) said that raising the minimum wage was the right thing to do.

"There were some arguments against it, but it’s not that I am unsympathetic to supporting small businesses," Laurino said. "But if you look at the last referendum, more than 76 percent in the 39th ward were clear that they supported the minimum wage. More so citywide."

Laurino said that the ordinance was fair because the increase would be implemented over the period of five years.

"We are giving the employers a period to adjust. It’s not like we are raising the minimum wage to $13 right away because people would go out of business. This is being done over five years. This isn’t happening tomorrow," she said.

Mary O’Connor criticized some aldermen who said that she was against the minimum wage increase because she owns O’Connor’s Deli and Market, 7280 W. Devon Ave.

"We’ve always paid higher than the minimum wage, and I question the aldermen who say I don’t support increasing the minimum wage," O’Connor said. "I want to know if they gave the same courtesy to smaller businesses when they were" considering this and if they were ever concerned about striking a reasonable balance."

"I hope we are as passionate about getting to a place where we won’t need to have people raising families of four on a minimum wage, but are creating more business and offering more opportunities," O’Connor said.

Arena said that he liked the current proposal because after 2019 the wage increases will be tied to inflation. "This will allow businesses to adapt and they could budget for what is coming," he said.

Arena said that raising the minimum wage would allow people to spend more money into the local economy.

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