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Aldermen Push $15 Minimum Wage, Say Proposed Hike to $13 Is 'Not Enough'

By Ted Cox | July 9, 2014 12:55pm
 Ald. John Arena joined in calls to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Ald. John Arena joined in calls to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — Aldermen, community activists and union members repeated their call for a $15 minimum wage Wednesday, rejecting the proposal of a mayoral task force to raise it to $13 an hour over four years.

"That's a start, but it's not what the people of Chicago need," said Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative, part of the Raise Chicago coalition pushing the $15-an-hour minimum wage.

At a City Hall news conference Wednesday, aldermen and community leaders pointed to how an advisory referendum on a $15 minimum wage for companies pulling in $50 million in revenues was on the ballot in more than 100 precincts in the March primary, and passed with 87 percent of voters in favor.

"The mayor and the aldermen need to listen to the voters instead of big businesses," said Adeline Bracey of the neighborhood group Action Now. "We are barely alive making $8.25," the current minimum wage across Illinois.

"The overwhelming opinion of residents in our community is that the current minimum wage is not enough," added Ald. Jason Ervin (28th). "The $13 is not enough. $15 is the right amount for people to raise their families, support themselves and be beneficial members of the community."

Ald. John Arena (45th) cited how the Progressive Reform Caucus already submitted an ordinance on the $15 minimum wage in May. He dismissed the $13 figure proposed this week by a mayoral task force called the Working Group as insufficient, saying, "The proposal we have from the commission feels like half a loaf."

"The Working Group, made up of a diverse set of community and business leaders, considered a range of options and the input of hundreds of Chicago residents who voiced their views during the group’s extensive public engagement process," said mayoral spokeswoman Libby Langsdorf. "Its final recommendation reflects thoughtful compromise among its members. Mayor Emanuel supports the Working Group’s balanced proposal, which would provide more than 400,000 workers with a raise and inject the local economy with $800 million in new spending over four years."

Patel pointed out that the $15 proposal has been stuck in the Committee on Workforce Development, which hasn't met since March. The committee chairman is Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel's floor leader in the City Council. It does have a meeting scheduled for July 22, but an agenda has not been set.

Patel cited figures showing that a raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour would generate more than $600 million in economic activity, as people living on the verge of poverty would pump the money right back into the economy for basic needs rather than save it.

"And that creates jobs," she added. "It's not a job killer. It's the only way to create jobs in the city."

Business groups have insisted a hike in the minimum wage would "destroy a lot of job opportunities," especially in small businesses. Patel countered that the immediate hike to $15 would be imposed on companies taking in $50 million and would be phased in over time for small businesses.

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