The Chicago City Council moved hastily Tuesday to approve an ordinance calling for a $13 minimum wage for workers in the Windy City, the latest place where city officials are taking action to increase worker pay independent of statewide initiatives.
The ordinance calls for the minimum wage in Chicago to rise from $8.25 to $10 an hour beginning next year, followed by increases to $10.50 in 2016, $11 in 2017, $12 in 2018 and, finally, $13 in 2019.
Though five aldermen voted against the ordinance, 44 others backed it during the special Tuesday meeting of the council.
The Raise Chicago Coalition, which had fought for the wage boost, called the vote "a major victory."
“The passage of this increase will change the lives of hundreds of thousands of low wage workers and their families. It will have a tangible benefit for our communities, local economies and small businesses," Ann Marie Cunningham of Jane Addams Senior Caucus, part of the Raise Chicago group, said in a statement.
The fast-tracked plan, one of three wage-increase proposals considered by city officials this week, is backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in what some critics say is a political move designed to win favor with left-leaning Chicago voters ahead of the February 2015 mayoral election.
Emanuel applauded the city council's Tuesday vote in a statement. "A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who works in the City of Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty," he said. "Today, Chicago has shown that our City is behind a fair working wage."
The council’s 19-member Workplace Development and Audit Committee had approved the plan Monday, with only three “no” votes, despite business groups and a minority of aldermen -- including Ann Sather restaurants owner Tom Tunney -- saying the plan will kill jobs and hurt business in the city.
"How do you go from $8.25 [an-hour] to $13 overnight?” Tunney said Tuesday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “You know what you do? You raise the prices and you've also got to find ways to do it with less help. That's what's going to happen."
Business groups including the Chicagoland Camber of Commerce and the Illinois Restaurant Association have also said the wage increase puts Chicago businesses at an unfair disadvantage, especially in parts of the city that border suburb towns in Illinois and communities in the neighboring state of Indiana.
Some activist groups and Emanuel rivals gearing up for the mayoral race say the $13-an-hour wage is not enough and have vowed to continue to push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, an amount that an overwhelming majority of Chicago voters approved via a non-binding ballot question in the March primary election.
"While I’m proud to support today’s increase in the minimum wage, we can’t stop fighting now," Ald. Bob Fioretti, who is running for mayor, said in a Tuesday statement. "Rahm Emanuel could’ve pushed this legislation earlier, and he could’ve pushed for $15 an hour today. The chant in the streets here and nationwide has been ‘show me $15,’ not ‘show me $13 by 2019.’"
Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who is also running for mayor, questioned why the Emanuel administration did not push for a higher wage sooner. Garcia also backed a proposed $15-an-hour Chicago wage.
"Why didn't he support a minimum wage hike during his first year in office?" Garcia said in a statement. "Why does he want to wait another 5 years before raising everyone to $13 an hour?"
In the November elections, a majority of Illinois voters cast ballots in favor of increasing the state minimum wage to $10 by 2015. Sixty-six percent of voters statewide approved the November ballot question, while 87 percent of Chicago voters voted in favor of the increase.
Chicago’s move to increase its city minimum wage could have implications for the separate battle to boost the state minimum wage to $11 by 2017. As Crain’s Greg Hinz reported Monday, the backing of business groups which had supported the statewide proposal was likely contingent on the law blocking the ability of Chicago and other cities to independently increase their minimum wages above the state wage.
The state minimum wage was a key issue in the state’s contentious gubernatorial race, and there is continued tension as Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner has urged the state legislature to avoid taking action on any major issues, particularly raising the minimum wage, until he takes office on Jan. 12.
Rauner, who is pushing for “pro-job creation, pro growth reforms,” such as changes to laws concerning workers compensation and state taxes in conjunction with a minimum wage increase, warned on Tuesday that the Chicago ordinance could make the city less competitive, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn had vowed to increase the minimum wage in Illinois, and lawmakers may choose to ignore Rauner’s directive and approve such legislation during their fall veto session this week.
Chicago is home to approximately 400,000 minimum-wage workers, who will be directly impacted by Tuesday's vote.
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