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$15-an-Hour Minimum Wage Backed by Council Progressives

By Ted Cox | May 27, 2014 2:56pm | Updated on May 27, 2014 3:05pm
 Ald. Roderick Sawyer expects to submit an ordinance on a $15-an-hour minimum wage Wednesday, backed by fellow progressive Aldermen Bob Fioretti and Scott Waguespack.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer expects to submit an ordinance on a $15-an-hour minimum wage Wednesday, backed by fellow progressive Aldermen Bob Fioretti and Scott Waguespack.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — City Council progressives will submit an ordinance Wednesday calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage for companies earning $50 million a year in gross revenues.

"I think it's time for us to present a real ordinance," said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) Tuesday, adding that members of the Progressive Reform Caucus will be submitting the ordinance at Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Municipal elections will be held next year but Sawyer said the minimum wage effort was not "an election stunt or gimmick." The ordinance is meant to reflect the 87 percent support a $15 minimum wage received in a city referendum this spring, he said.

Katelyn Johnson, the executive director of the working families advocacy group Action Now, joined Sawyer in making the announcement, calling the effort an attempt to "carry out the will of the people."

Sawyer and Johnson backed the increase Tuesday with a new study by the Center for Popular Democracy. According to Connie Razza, director of strategic research for the agency, the increase would produce more than $1.5 billion in added city wages. Because those benefiting would be more likely to spend than save the windfall, it would pump $616 million into the city economy, with an estimated $45 million in new sales-tax revenues. Razza said it would actually create 5,350 jobs.

"This is not a job killer," Sawyer said. "It would result in a better quality of life for all of us."

Johnson added that it would provide "a path out of poverty" for those now earning minimum wage, set at $8.25 an hour in Illinois.

Business interests have differed, however.

Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, called the proposal "a ridiculously excessive reach on the part of a local government to try to instruct private-sector employers how to manage their businesses."

"It never ceases to amaze me how elected officials are so quick to impose costly mandates upon private-sector employers with little regard for the costs or challenges associated with trying to satisfy the government’s directives," Whitley added. "I wonder how many Chicago aldermen actually own and operate a private business that requires them to  assume management responsibilities and meet payroll obligations."

The chamber put out a statement this year, backed by other business groups, saying: "Illinois employers cannot afford another minimum-wage increase" of any sort.

Sawyer said the hike, if passed, would be phased in over three years and would initially affect only large firms capable of handling the increase, but would no doubt affect all businesses ultimately. Razza projected a 2 percent increase in consumer prices.

Sawyer added that he expected the ordinance to have the initial support of the progressive caucus and perhaps a few others. He added that it was not meant to undermine the committee put together last week on the issue by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"Quite frankly, even the mayor's office has acknowledged that the rate has to be raised," Sawyer said. "This is the first thing they can look at."

Ald. William Burns (4th), who is a key member of that mayoral committee, has previously backed the $15-an-hour minimum wage. Emanuel too has backed an increase in the minimum wage, although not to $15.

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