The Crusader Newspaper Group

Coming to a suburb near you?

By Keith Chambers, Chicago Crusader

Money. Money. Money.

Chicago’s northern suburbs are on edge as the $15 minimum wage bill inches closer to reality in Springfield where the House approved the minimum wage hike by a vote of 61 to 53.

Coming to a suburb near you—Chicago’s outlying towns, villages and municipalities may finally be forced to raise the minimum wage for businesses in their neighborhoods.

It’s a possibility that will provide few options for suburban cities that stuck to the state’s low minimum wage after Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle approved a $13 minimum wage in 2016. The wage would gradually increase by $1 each year through 2020. The new ordinance takes effect July 1.

In Chicago, officials passed a similar ordinance this year that would raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. Last year, wage earners in Chicago made $10 an hour. Now, they make $10.50 an hour.

Since Cook County passed its $13 minimum wage ordinance, some 18 Chicago suburbs have opted out of Cook County’s $13 minimum wage, preferring to stick with the state-mandated $8.25 wage. They include: Oak Lawn, Bellwood, Maywood, Arlington Heights, Barrington, Rosemont, Buffalo Grove and Mount Prospect.

Suburbs have the ability to opt out of the increase because they are home-rule cities that have the power to govern their own neighborhoods. This is bucking the Cook County minimum wage increase, which many suburbs fear will hurt their economies.

However, if Illinois lawmakers pass the $15 minimum wage bill, those suburbs will be forced to raise the wage standard for businesses in their towns.

MINIMUM WAGE BY STATE1Many of these suburbs are affluent, predominantly white towns with thriving economies. And despite public outcry, the predominantly Black towns of Bellwood and Maywood passed ordinances that would exempt private employers from paying the $13 Cook County minimum wage in March and May, respectively.

Like other suburban cities, towns followed the state $8.25 minimum wage mandate, but those days may soon be over. If the $15 state minimum wage bill passes, employees in these suburbs will be coming home with fatter paychecks. That possibility is growing.

As the $15 minimum wage bill gains momentum in Springfield, it may be the biggest victory for activists who, for years, have been campaigning for a higher state-mandated wage to help struggling families make ends meet. They face stiff opposition from suburban cities who, for years, said the state’s $8.25 minimum wage was good enough for employees. They say a high minimum wage would hurt businesses and force some to close their doors. Now, their concerns are growing as the $15 minimum wage bill heads for final approval by the Senate and will then be signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Illinois presently ranks 23rd among the 50 states when it comes to minimum wage rates. At $15 an hour, Illinois will have the highest minimum wage rate in the country. Currently, Washington, DC leads the country with its $11.50 minimum wage law.

The approval of the new wage by the House of Representatives comes nearly a week after the activist group, Fight for $15, took to the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook to rally for higher wages. Fast food and retail companies continue to push back against the proposal for fear of job loss and overall economic harm.

Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said in a statement, “While corporations are enjoying record profits, workers in Illinois are suffering. Today, the House of Representatives took a historic step to reversing this course and building our economy from the bottom-up, instead of placing our faith in the misguided hope that prosperity will trickle down.”

Senate Bill 81, which was sponsored by State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th), would gradually raise Illinois’ minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 an hour over a five-year period.

After the Illinois House passed the bill, Lightford released a statement to the Chicago Crusader.

“I look forward to receiving the minimum wage [bill] that was voted on in the House. We have approved a number of minimum wage measures in the Senate, and many of my colleagues are eager for and committed to a $15 minimum wage.”

In a statement, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association said, “The political campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour has already resulted in reduced hours and eliminated positions in major cities where this has been enacted, including the city of Chicago. In fact, we have seen automation and self-service alternatives replace jobs due to continued efforts to artificially increase wages through government actions instead of working with employers.”

Kelley said these objections are “the same old stale and discredited scare claims,” adding that he believes the main outcome of hiking the minimum wage to $15 is “giving workers a living wage.”


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