Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Illinois likely will have to set common standard for all for minimum wage

The Cook County Board a couple of months ago voted to gradually increase the minimum wage for suburban-based companies to pay their employees, hoping in part it could jolt the Illinois General Assembly into taking action.

Yet it seems that all that has been created is a certain level of uncertaintly – that and a sense that Cook County could become a checkerboard, of sorts, of having to keep track which municipalities require their businesses to pay better than others.

FOR WHILE THE county board imposed a standard that will gradually increase the minimum wage in Cook County to $13 per hour by 2020 (similar to the already-enacted Chicago City Council measure that boosts the minimum wage from the current $8.50 by 2019), it would seem there are places that just don’t want to go along.

Earlier this month, city officials in Oak Forest (a southwestern suburb near Orland Park and all those shopping malls) passed a measure opting out of the county-enacted minimum wage requirement.

Local officials weren’t eager to spew all kinds of hostile rhetoric against paying workers a decent wage (although the argument can be made that some types of work aren’t worth as much as others). But their votes to opt-out spoke loud enough.

Although it contrasts with the actions of Calumet City, a suburb that borders up both against Chicago proper and the Illinois/Indiana state line (it also happens to be the community I lived in while growing up).

THERE, CITY OFFICIALS voted to create a referendum question for the April 4 municipal election ballot.

Voters in Calumet City will not only pick a mayor and aldermen (most likely returning long-time officeholder Michelle Markiewicz Qualkinbush as mayor even though state Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, is contemplating challenging her), they will decide “yes” or “no” on whether the minimum wage ought to go up to $15.

Which, by the way, is the dollar figure that activists across the country are calling for in their own efforts to try to make jobs at Burger King or Wal-mart into something that a person could earn a living at – instead of just taking in some extra money.

The Chicago-based Centro de Trabajadores Unidos issued a statement Tuesday praising the south suburb for taking their action, and even including provisions that the minimum wage would apply to all workers – including those in the restaurant industry.

CONSIDERING THAT I had a mother who, for the bulk of her life worked jobs either as a waitress or cashier (the best job she ever had was her last, as a supermarket cashier because it provided her a health insurance package along with her minimum wage salary), I’m fully aware of how restaurants don’t have to pay their help much.

The argument is made that the waitresses get money in their pockets in the form of tips, which is the reason why I always make sure to leave a respectable gratuity for the people who serve me. And look down on those people who try to claim they’re making a profound statement by not tipping – even though all it really means is they’re cheap!

Now I don’t know how the residents of my former home city will vote on this referendum (or if they’ll be like many other municipality voters and decide this election cycle isn’t worth their time). But I wonder how many people would express some support for this issue – if given the chance to comment.

Because I’m also sure that Oak Forest-expressed attitude, which was largely influenced by the city’s chamber of commerce, is coming from businesses that will view a higher salary as merely a blow to their financial bottom line.

SINCE I’M AWARE of other municipalities that have also considered an opt-out – Elk Grove Village, Barrington, Prospect Heights, Arlington Heights, Barrington Hills, Palatine, Wheeling and Rosemont all either have, or are considering, taking similar actions.

Hence, the checkerboard – as in people who have to rely on such work for anything resembling an income will have to keep track of “good” towns to work in and “bad” ones. While I’m sure some small businesses will insist on locating in the latter to bolster themselves financially without having to invest more in their interests.

Which sounds more like a case for confusion across Cook County – accounting for almost half of Illinois’ population when Chicago proper is included. It really is an issue our state Legislature will have to address.

Except that we have the partisan conditions that prevent our state from even approving itself a proper operating budget and a governor claiming his delay is in the name of economic “reform” – I can already hear his objections to the idea of paying the hired help so much as a dime more in salary and this issue being added to the list of grievances the state has.


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