Mayor Emanuel recently appointed me to a 16-member “Minimum Wage Working Group,” consisting of community, labor and business leaders to develop a proposal for a minimum wage in Chicago. The Working Group today submitted a report recommending that the City Council establish a Chicago minimum wageof $13 an hour.
For a copy of the Working Group’s full report, CLICK HERE
To his credit, Mayor Emanuel quickly endorsed the recommendations and pledged his full support when they are brought before the City Council.
As one of the members of the working group and the lead sponsor of the Big Box Living Wage Ordinance in 2006, I heartily support the recommendations. The current U.S. Congress clearly is unwilling to raise the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 since 2009. And it is far from certain the Illinois General Assembly will enact an increase in the state minimum wage beyond the current $8.25.
With the federal and state legislatures at a standstill,it is incumbent upon the Chicago City Council and our mayor to follow the lead of other U.S. cities and enact our own city minimum wage.
Seattle voters recently enacted a $15 minimum wage for their city and San Francisco voters are likely to approve a similar $15 minimum wage proposal when they vote in November. When taking into account the higher cost of living in those west coast cities, Chicago’s $13 minimum wage is approximately equivalent to Seattle and San Francisco’s $15 minimum wage.
Chicago’s increase would raise wages for approximately 410,000 workers and add $800 million to Chicago’s economy over four years.
Recognizing that an increase in the minimum wage statewide would be the ideal scenario, the Working Group recommended that the City Council refrain from enacting a City minimum wage until the Illinois General Assembly had one final opportunity to increase the Illinois minimum wage during its fall veto session. If the General Assembly fails to enact or enacts a wage increase of less than $13 an hour, the Working Group recommends the City Council take action.
To give small businesses time to adjust, the Working Group recommended that the $13 minimum wage be phased in over the next four years and then indexed to inflation. The Group also recommended an increase in the minimum wage paid to tipped workers from the current state minimum of $4.95 to $5.95 and then indexed to inflation. If the workers do not receive at least $13 an hour in tips and compensation, the employer must make up the difference. Finally, the Group recommended that the local minimum wage retain existing state exemptions for workers under the age of 18 and individuals undergoing training.
The groundwork for the working Group’s recommendations was laid by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago and the Fight for 15 campaign, which sought a $15/hour minimum wage and brought the issue of income inequality in our City to the forefront.
Though the Working Group’s recommendation fell short of $15, the proposed $13 minimum wage remains one of the highest in the nation, especially when taking into account the higher cost of living in Seattle, the only major U.S. city that has enacted a $15 minimum wage.
If adopted by the City Council, the Working Group’s recommendations will result in lifting hundreds of thousands of working families in Chicago out of poverty. Chicago’s economy in turn will benefit, as those workers will spend their new raise buying products and services in the local economy.
I am proud to have participated in the Working Group and I’m equally proud of its recommendations. A job should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.