Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s task force recommended Monday that Chicago’s minimum wage be ramped up to $13 an hour by 2018, an idea that comes as City Hall faces pressure to act on the issue while Democrats nationally try to make income disparity a campaign theme this fall.
But the panel also suggested that the Chicago City Council should put off a vote to raise the current $8.25 an hour minimum wage until after state lawmakers tackle the matter in the two months following the Nov. 4 election. The task force members don’t want to deter the General Assembly from approving a statewide wage hike because Chicago already has increased its minimum wage, said 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns, the panel’s co-chairman.
Emanuel appointed the group in late May, after 21 aldermen joined together to push for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour within four years. All 50 aldermen face re-election in late February 2015 and a vote shortly before then to increase the city’s minimum wage would force them to choose between labor and business interests.
After several public hearings, the Minimum Wage Working Group met behind closed doors and voted 13-3 to approve the plan.
The vote came Monday afternoon, as Emanuel addressed a rash of holiday weekend shootings in the city, but mayoral aides said the minimum wage vote wasn’t intended to distract from the violence.
“When the mayor appointed the working group, he asked that they report back within 45 days,” said David Spielfogel, the mayor’s senior adviser. “He was happy to receive their recommendation right on time and supports it.”
Voting against the $13-an-hour proposal were representatives of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Chicago Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Restaurant Association, Burns said. Aldermen, labor officials and leaders of community groups backed the concept.
The idea was “to strike a balance between helping workers and making sure Chicago stays competitive,” Burns said.
But Rob Karr, president of the Retail Merchants Association, said his group opposes any minimum wage increase. “This is going to make it difficult for Chicago retailers to remain competitive and hire,” Karr said.
Emanuel aides said the increase to $13 would affect 410,000 people working in the city and could pump hundreds of millions of extra dollars into the city’s economy. They also conceded it could lead to an increase of up to 2 percent in the cost of food, goods, services and health care.
The task force recommended the current minimum wage of $8.25 be increased in each of the next three years by $1.25, with a $1 increase in 2018. After that, annual increases would be pegged to the rate of inflation.
Tipped employees, like waiters, would see their wages increased by $1 to $5.95 over the next two years. Annual increases after that would be at the rate of inflation. But their total pay, including wages and tips, would have to at least equal the amount paid to non-tipped employees in the city.
Illinois voters this fall are being asked in an advisory referendum whether the state should raise its wage rate to $10 an hour. Emanuel aides contend that the cost of living in the Chicago area is much greater than the rest of the state, so a higher minimum wage rate in the city is appropriate.
Sam Toia, president of the Restaurant Association and an Emanuel ally, said his group would prefer one minimum wage for the entire state.
“The IRA supports a reasonable increase to the minimum wage that is considered at the state level versus a piecemeal approach that is proposed by each municipality,” Toia said in an e-mail statement.