The Crusader Newspaper Group

Cook County Votes to Raise Minimum Wage

By J. Coyden Palmer, Chicago Crusader

Its good news for those who live in Cook County suburbs as the Board of Commissioners voted Oct. 26 to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour within the next four years. Commissioners say raising the minimum wage will put the suburbs on par with Chicago, which voted to raise the wage earlier this year. The commissioners also believe the hike for workers who are most vulnerable to becoming a part of the working poor will lift some people out of poverty.

Kristi Sanford of Fair Economy Illinois praised the move.

“This will bring a raise to over 220,000 workers in the Cook County area who deserve a raise,” Sanford said. “They need this money; people are making choices between putting food on the table, paying their rent or putting gas in their car.”

The measure calls for wages to increase to $10 an hour in July of next year, then go up $1 each additional year until 2020. Home-rule communities in the county can choose to opt out of the program.

“The measure approved by the board takes a reasonable approach in raising the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2020,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said in her remarks. “It phases in over time to provide flexibility for employers to adjust and minimize any impact on their bottom line. At $13 an hour, no one will get rich. But that pay rate will help people pay their bills.”

Preckwinkle said she knows there will be those opposing the measure. But she said it is important that government try to look out for those on the lower end of the wage earning scale. She said realistically, nobody can live on $8.25 an hour, which is the current rate.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce issued a statement in opposition to the move. They say their members are being hit twice this month with a proposed tax on sugary drinks that will force businesses to raise prices and now an increase of the minimum wage.

“In addition to a higher minimum wage, employers are also facing a costly paid sick leave mandate and a potential $150 million sweetened beverage tax,” Theresa Mintle, president and CEO of the chamber, said in the statement. “Each of these new mandates falls disproportionately hard on restaurants and retailers. It’s no wonder numerous municipalities within the county have already stated their desire to exempt themselves from this ordinance, which exacerbates the problem for those employers and employees inside Cook County dealing with the patchwork of rules and regulations.”

The total raise will put an additional $10,000 a year in the pockets of full-time minimum wage workers.

Trade groups representing the retail and restaurant industries say businesses operating on 3 to 5 percent profit margin are already being squeezed to the bone. One of those cost increases includes a federal rule set to start Dec. 1 that will extend overtime pay to millions more Americans.

But a more drastic approach is being taken by one of the largest fast food chains in the country. Wendy’s announced earlier this year they will be installing self-serve kiosks at their company owned restaurants. Franchise restaurants can make their own choices. The new technology is set to start in stores before the end of the year. Wendy’s President Todd Penegore said many of the franchises are going to try the new technology in cities like New York where the minimum wage went up to $15. Wendy’s is also getting ready to begin mobile ordering and mobile payments.

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