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Minimum Wage FAQs: Will I Get a Raise Next Week? ... and Other Queries

By Ted Cox | December 3, 2014 5:31am
 If you're a Chicago McDonald's worker earning the minimum wage, you might not get a raise next week, but one is coming in July.
If you're a Chicago McDonald's worker earning the minimum wage, you might not get a raise next week, but one is coming in July.
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Scott Olson/Getty Images

CITY HALL — On Tuesday, Chicago’s City Council approved a $13-an-hour minimum wage, saying “Chicagoans deserve a raise.” The hike will roll out slowly, with minimum wage workers expected to earn $13 an hour in 2019.

How will this affect you and your business? Here are some answers.

Q: I work at McDonald’s and currently make $9 an hour. Will my check be bigger next week?

A: Probably not (sorry), and certainly not because of the council's actions. But starting next July, McDonald’s will have to pay you $10 an hour to be in compliance with the new ordinance.

Q. That's not $13. How do we get there?

A. The minimum wage rises to $10.50 in July 2016, $11 in July 2017, $12 in July 2018 and finally $13 in July 2019.

Q. Great, so we can look forward to the same stagnation after that until it's raised again in 2030?

A. No, after that's it's tied to the rate of inflation.

Q. What if inflation suddenly jumps to 15 percent? Won't that lead to spiraling prices?

A. The city ordinance put in place a 2.5 percent cap on increases in an attempt not to aggravate periods of high inflation. That's consistent with the 2.5 percent average since 1993 and the 2.4 percent annual inflation rate the Congressional Budget Office forecasts for the next decade.

Q. And what about periods of high unemployment? Won't a higher minimum wage worsen that?

A. The cost-of-living adjustment will be deferred in years in which city unemployment the year before was 8.5 percent.

Q. Isn't that every year?

A. According to city officials, over the last 23 years, unemployment has reached 8.5 percent in eight of them, mostly during the recession in the early 1990s and the Great Recession of 2008.

Q: I own a neighborhood cafe and can only afford two employees. Can I appeal for more time?

A. No need. The city ordinance does not apply to businesses with fewer than four employees who aren't family. That is, if you have 10 family members working for your business and three non-family members, you're exempt. Same goes if it's just you and one, two or three non-family employees. But four independent employees and it kicks in.

Q. I'm a waitress. When do I get to $13 an hour?

A. Independent of tips, not any time soon. The city ordinance raises the tipped minimum wage from $4.95 to $5.45 in July, then to $5.95 a year later, after which it's tied to the same inflation index as the general minimum wage will be. San Francisco has gone to a single minimum wage regardless of tips, but that's not happening here.

Q. I'm a home domestic worker. Does the minimum wage apply to me?

A. It most certainly does.

Q. What about me? I give home care to the elderly.

A. That's a thorny issue, as many complain about the impact on senior citizens with fixed incomes. But yes it does, and the city expects the state to pony up more in grants and other forms of aid to make up the difference.

Q. Can the city really do this?

A. Good question. Ald. Edward Burke (14th) wondered aloud in a committee hearing just when the late-'80s ruling in Bernardi v. City of Highland Park had been overturned. That limited the city's home-rule powers where wages are concerned. Yet the Emanuel administration's Law Department insists it's ready to defend any suits challenging the city minimum wage.

Q. How will it be enforced?

A. The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection is assigned the task. Three violations within a year can lead to the loss of a business license, and certain penalties can lead to three times the amount workers were shortchanged.

Q. Why aren't major corporations like big-box stores and fast-food franchises, getting socked right away, as proposed in the rival $15-an-hour ordinance?

A. The Law Department determined "the simpler the better," one standard for all employers — aside from those previously mentioned small companies, that is.

Q. Can we keep suburbanites from swooping in and claiming jobs that pay better than those in the suburbs?

A. Sadly, no.

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