CITY HALL — The City Council voted Tuesday to increase Chicago's minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years.
The measure, from lead sponsors Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Will Burns (4th), passed by a vote of 44-5. Voting against it were Aldermen Matt O'Shea (19th), Mary O'Connor (41st), Brendan Reilly (42nd), Tom Tunney (44th) and Michele Smith (43rd).
"Working Chicagoans deserve a raise," Burns said in directly introducing the ordinance Tuesday.
"This is not a zero-sum game," Emanuel said, emphasizing his administration's estimates that it will affect 400,000 workers, lift 70,000 out of poverty, 5,000 of those single mothers, and pump $860 million into the local economy. "All those go together as part of a strategy to raise incomes, raise the standard of living," he said after passage.
Considered a compromise between a proposal from Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) to raise it to $10.65 and one from Progressive Reform Caucus aldermen and Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) to hike it to $15, the measure sped through the council's Workforce Development Committee Monday and passed in a special meeting Tuesday.
All those who favored $15 an hour voted for the $13 compromise.
"The $13 is not enough, but it is a step in the direction we should be moving," said Ald. Jason Ervin (28th).
"We need to get to $15, I still believe. But I believe we're making positive steps," said Ald. John Arena (45th), one of the lead sponsors of the $15 proposal.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) called it "a good first step," but added, "We need to keep moving forward to $15."
"Sometimes government has to force people to do what's right," Moreno said.
Yet Tunney, who also owns the Ann Sather restaurants, said it would raise consumer prices and cost jobs. "Whatever the wage is, when there is no company there is no job," he said.
He urged a "level playing field" with a statewide increase in the minimum wage.
Reilly echoed that, saying that a "patchwork quilt" of various minimum-wage laws could lead to conflicts of "municipality versus municipality and city versus suburbs."
All the opponents said it threatened merchants on the city borders, with Tunney urging, "Don't hurt the fringe areas."
Ald. Mary O'Connor spoke out for small-business owners who consider themselves "survivors who believe in the American dream" and treat their employees like "family."
Yet in the end it wasn't close.
"Who can survive on $8.25 an hour, $17,000 a year?" Ald. James Balcer (11th) said during the council debate.
Ald. Timothy Cullerton (38th) quoted from the "rabble" speech George Bailey gave to Mr. Potter in "It's a Wonderful Life."
It was originally proposed in July after the so-called Working Group handpicked by Emanuel and led by Burns voted 14-3 in favor of a $13-an-hour minimum wage.
The mayor put it on the fast track this week in the belief that passage will discourage the General Assembly from setting a lower minimum wage, possibly the $10.10 an hour proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, and at the same time remove Chicago's home-rule authority on the issue, as was the case with the ride-sharing bill vetoed by Quinn earlier this year.
"The state has threatened pre-emption," Arena argued.
Business interests, led by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association, fought the increase, making claims that it would increase consumer prices and be a "job killer," in the words of O'Shea.
He said it could prompt businesses on the city border like Original Rainbow Cone to move to suburbs like Evergreen Park.
Yet Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), chairman of the Workforce Development Committee that approved the ordinance Monday, said he was swayed by the testimony of one fast-food worker. After several restaurant owners testified that their businesses had been passed down in the family for generations, Robert Wilson Jr. said, "Poverty is passed down to my family."
The debate sometimes strayed. "The free market has been rigged against our communities, and it does not work," said Ald. Howard Brookins Jr. (21st). "This disproportionately affects communities of color. So today I say give those folks a raise."
"You can't rely on the federal government to do right by people," said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who decried the influence of corporate money on politics and the failure to adopt progressive taxation at the state level. "So we have no real ability to address income inequality unless we address it locally."
The ordinance will boost the city's minimum wage to $10 in July, $10.50 a year later, $11 the year after that and then $1 annually until reaching $13 in July 2019.
It faces legal challenges from business interests, with Reilly warning, "This is a bit of a risky proposition."
Ald. Patrick O'Connor said the mayor's willingness to take on that risk is what set this legislation apart from the big-box living-wage ordinance that died eight years ago under Mayor Richard M. Daley.
"The fact is, the world changes," he said. "What changed is the attitude of the administration."
O'Connor depicted the mayor's attitude as "this is worth the effort, and we think we can do it," adding, "There is the possibility that we're overreaching ... but the reach is worth it."
In the end, though, Monday's committee vote was basically discarded.
The new ordinance averted an attempt to delay it at the outset of Tuesday's special meeting when it was reintroduced directly rather than as a committee report from Monday. Burns added small details prohibiting retaliation against employees and requiring notification for workers. By introducing a new ordinance directly, that prevented Tunney and Reilly from exercising a parliamentary maneuver to defer it for at least a month.
Emanuel ruled it was "not eligible for deferral," and it went through.
Emanuel pulled Burns into a copier room before the meeting, evidently to explain how they'd evade the parliamentary move by Tunney and Reilly.
When asked after the meeting to confirm that was how things went down, Burns said smiling, "Does it matter?"
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