Higher Minimum Wage Backed in Rival City Council Resolutions, But How High?

By Ted Cox on February 12, 2014 12:08pm 

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering up a resolution on the minimum wage.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is offering up a resolution on the minimum wage.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The City Council is considering a resolution calling for a $10.10-an-hour minimum wage, after passing another measure calling for a $10.65 minimum wage last week.

The Progressive Reform Caucus boasted last week of passing a resolution sponsored by Ald. John Arena (45th) and supporting Gov. Pat Quinn's call for a statewide minimum wage of $10.65 an hour, more than $2 over the state's current minimum wage of $8.25. The resolution was signed by 26 aldermen and breezed through the City Council last week.

Yet at the same Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted a resolution, co-sponsored by Aldermen Emma Mitts (37th), JoAnn Thompson (16th), William Burns (4th) and Ameya Pawar (47th), backing President Barack Obama's call for a $10.10 minimum wage. That was sent to the Budget Committee for consideration before next month's Council meeting.

Both sides agree they share the same basic aims, and there's nothing to stop the Council from passing seemingly contradictory resolutions on the fine points. And both are advisory.

Arena's proposal, backing the governor, will go to General Assembly leaders, while the mayor's, backing the president, would go to the Illinois congressional delegation if passed.

"Throughout his career, Mayor Emanuel has strongly supported raising the minimum wage," mayoral spokesman Bill McCaffrey said. "He believes the men and women of Chicago work extremely hard every day to provide opportunity for their children, and it is essential that we create an environment in which they can support their families and achieve their dreams."

Arena echoed that rationale, saying, "The folks who are out there, the labor supporters of this, the people who are pushing for this at the state level, want to see something done.

"We know corporate profits are up. We know money is sitting in bank accounts," Arena added. "The economic concept here is that the more you put into the hands of lower- and middle-income households, that money then comes out on the street most directly. It's a very effective tool to help small businesses grow."

 Ald. John Arena's resolution calls for an even higher minimum wage of $10.65 an hour.
Ald. John Arena's resolution calls for an even higher minimum wage of $10.65 an hour.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association has countered with a fact sheet stating that the state already has the fourth-highest minimum wage in the nation at $8.25, a dollar higher than neighboring states. The association and other business groups, such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Association of Convenience Stores have warned that an increase in the minimum wage could result in job cuts and "falling back into recession."

As for the City Council, where there is less open debate on the issue, the difference between the two resolutions, Arena said, is in the intended audiences.

"We wanted to support Gov. Quinn in pushing for $10.65," he said. The resolution will be sent to the General Assembly "to inform them and encourage them."

The intended goal, Emanuel insisted, was the same.

In submitting his resolution, he said, "If you work, you should not be in poverty."

The mayor also backed the notion of tying additional increases to the rate of inflation, to keep further debate out of the political sphere.

In any case, Emanuel said, the goal is to get either the federal government or the state to increase the minimum wage, and he mentioned the possibility of additional local legislation.

"If they don't," he added, "I don't want to be caught flat-footed."

Meanwhile, Obama issued an executive order Wednesday setting the minimum wage at $10.10 for all workers covered under future federal contracts.

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