POLITICS

Illinois Lawmakers Pass $15 Minimum Wage

The Fight for $15 has picked up a lot of steam in blue states.

A proposal to gradually boost the state minimum wage in Illinois to $15 cleared its final hurdle in the statehouse Thursday, marking another win for unions and low-wage workers aiming to make $15 the baseline hourly wage across the U.S. 

The Democrat-controlled House passed the measure 69-47 days after the Democrat-controlled Senate passed it 39-18. The votes generally fell along party lines, with Republicans saying the hike would be too extreme, particularly in more rural areas.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the new Democratic governor, has already indicated he would sign what he called “historic legislation,” saying $15 was an appropriate floor across the state.

The minimum wage in Illinois is currently $8.25 per hour. The bill would gradually raise it in installments, first to $9.25 next January, then to $10 next July, and then $1 each new year until 2025, when it would reach $15. Backers of the bill argued that the piecemeal increases would create less of a shock for employers having to pay the higher wages.

Many Democratic lawmakers have gotten onboard with the concept of a $15 minimum wage thanks to the Fight for $15, a union-bac
Many Democratic lawmakers have gotten onboard with the concept of a $15 minimum wage thanks to the Fight for $15, a union-backed worker campaign that began in the fast-food industry in 2012.

The legislation and the politics surrounding it are similar to what just happened in New Jersey, where a $15 plan was signed into law earlier this month. Democrats in both states previously controlled both chambers of the statehouse, but winning the governor’s mansion as well has given them the opportunity to pass progressive laws over the objection of Republicans.

Pritzker, like Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in New Jersey, has said hiking the minimum wage would be a priority for his administration. His predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, vetoed a similar bill Democrats sent him in 2017.

Democratic lawmakers by and large have gotten onboard with the concept of a $15 minimum wage ― a progressive pipe dream just a few years ago ― thanks almost entirely to the Fight for $15, a union-backed worker campaign that began in the fast-food industry in 2012. The sight of McDonald’s workers walking off the job in protest of low pay helped spur legislation and ballot initiatives in cities and states across the country.

Now it seems there is little to stop $15 proposals in blue states where Democrats control the levers of government. Illinois is now on track to become the fifth state with a $15 floor, following California, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

Even so, the Illinois bill is not an unqualified victory for unions and worker groups. In a win for the service industry, the legislation does not touch what’s known as the “tip credit” ― the ability of restaurants and other gratuity-based businesses to pay a lower base minimum wage, letting tips make up the difference. The legislation will allow restaurants to continue paying 60 percent of the regular minimum wage.

That means the lower tipped minimum wage will go up over time, eventually to $9 when the regular minimum wage hits $15, but it won’t be eliminated the way liberal groups have sought.

Employers can also pay a lower minimum wage to minors who work fewer than 650 hours annually, the equivalent of about 16 full-time weeks. That minimum wage will top out at $13, rather than $15, in 2025.

Republicans had also sought a lower minimum wage outside the more expensive Chicago area but didn’t get it.

Over time, the law would give Illinois one of the highest minimum wages in the country. The federal minimum wage is still $7.25 per hour and prevails in the 21 states that don’t mandate a higher one. Democrats in Washington recently introduced a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024. It stands a good chance of passing the Democrat-controlled House but won’t go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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