PILSEN — The mayor and several aldermen voiced support for a proposal to raise Chicago's minimum wage to $13 an hour over four years on Tuesday, but said they'd wait for the General Assembly to act first before taking action in the city.
"The minimum wage is to make sure that work pays," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. "Nobody who works should raise a child in poverty."
Speaking in a news conference at Mujeres Latinas en Accion in Pilsen, the mayor insisted it's a women's issue, as 55 percent of the city's estimated 410,000 minimum-wage workers are women, many of them single parents.
Emanuel dismissed suggestions the move, and its timing, were related to the statewide referendum on the minimum wage in November. He pointed to his support for a hike in the minimum wage throughout his political career, going back to when it was last raised nationwide to $7.25 in 2007, when he was a congressman representing the North Side of Chicago.
"We haven't raised the minimum wage in years, and it's fallen behind the cost of living," Emanuel said.
It has since been raised to $8.25 in Illinois, where there's a proposal to hike it to $10.65 this year. Yet both Emanuel and Ald. Will Burns (4th), co-chairman of the 17-member Working Group that considered the topic over six weeks, said they'd be waiting for the state Legislature to move first.
"We don't want to be the reason the Legislature doesn't act," Burns said, adding that he expected some movement on it after the election, in the fall veto session.
Emanuel said he'd submit an ordinance on the proposal — to raise the city's minimum wage $1 a year for four years until it reaches $13 an hour in 2018 — at the City Council meeting later this month, so that the city would be "poised to move" as soon as the General Assembly does. He said it was his "fervent hope" legislators would do so this year.
"We don't want to hurt small businesses," Burns said, but he allowed that the three members of the committee from business organizations all voted against it in a final 14-3 tally to approve the hike.
The Chicago Retail Merchants Association — which is part of the larger Illinois Retail Merchants Association that was one of the committee's "no" votes — blasted the proposal Tuesday.
"Increasing the largest expense on a retailer's balance sheet by 57.5 percent over four years is not sustainable or affordable," said Robb Karr, the group's president. "Further, given the many borders Chicago shares with other communities, Chicago employers will not be able to simply increase prices or they will wind up closing down as their customers seek lower prices a few short blocks away. Chicago employers will have to cut costs, and that likely means fewer hours or no hours for the most vulnerable employees."
Theresa Mintle, Emanuel's former chief of staff and now chief executive officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, was a member of the Working Group committee and also voted against the minimum-wage proposal, as did Sam Toia, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association.
Replied Emanuel: "I understand business will oppose. ... [But] it's not a zero-sum game." He cited business reforms he'd instituted to streamline the licensing process for city businesses, as well as ending the head tax on city employees.
Eight members of the City Council were on the task force appointed in May by the mayor, including Burns and Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th), Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), Emma Mitts (37th), Joe Moore (49th), Ameya Pawar (47th), Ariel Reboyras (30th) and JoAnn Thompson (16th). All backed the proposal. Previously, some aldermen have backed a hike to $15 an hour.
The Raise Chicago coalition of groups supporting the higher minimum wage said it "will continue to fight for the will of the people, which is a $15 minimum wage for all." Raise Chicago announced plans to hold a news conference outside the Mayor's Office at City Hall on Wednesday.
"It's important that we go in this direction," said John Bouman, president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who was co-chairman of the task force along with Burns. He granted that the business-oriented members voted against, but added, "They participated fully in the process."
The committee also recommended that the minimum wage be tied to the cost-of-living index after it's hiked to $13, and that the minimum wage for tipped workers also be tied to the rate of inflation after being raised $1 from the state minimum of $4.95 an hour. State exemptions for workers under 18 and those undergoing training would be retained.
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