Cook County hiked the minimum wage, but maybe not really for you

Chicago Police keep watch as demonstrators rally for $15 an hour last year. Following Chicago's lead, Cook County gradually is raising minimum wage to $13 an hour. Many Chicago suburbs are opting out of the increase. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

 

 

If you work in Evanston and earn the legal minimum wage, you’ll likely get a raise on July 1.

Officials in that near north suburb intend to comply with a Cook County ordinance that will raise the minimum wage this summer to $10 an hour, up from the Illinois minimum of $8.25.

If you work in Schaumburg or Rosemont, though, you won’t be so lucky. Schaumburg village officials plan to opt out of the county’s increase, and Rosemont already has.

It’s a blow to minimum-wage workers who thought they triumphed back in October when the Cook County Board of Commissioners increased the minimum wage. From $10 an hour this summer, the hourly minimum wage will rise to $11 an hour in 2018, $12 in 2019 and $13 in 2020.

OPINION

The federal minimum wage has been set at $7.25 since July 2009. It likely will stay stuck there under President Donald Trump and a GOP-controlled Congress.

The Cook County increase is supposed to put the suburbs in line with its largest city, Chicago, which gradually is raising the minimum wage to $13 an hour by July 2019. The city will go up to $11 from $10.50 on July 1.

But many suburbs are pushing back, citing the toll a wage increase could take on small businesses. They’re opting out of the increases using their powers of “home rule.” This is a designation, under the Illinois Constitution, given automatically to towns with more than 25,000 residents and to smaller towns that adopt home rule by referendum. Home rule allows cities to opt out of county and some state laws.

Some cities and villages, such as River Forest and Barrington, already have passed local ordinances to opt out of the wage hike. Officials in many other suburbs are voting in coming weeks and months on whether to forgo the minimum-wage increase and mandated paid sick days for employees that the county board approved.

Arlington Heights could decide Monday. “Businesses are asking us to opt out,” the village’s mayor, Tom Hayes, told me.

Schaumburg is a shopping mecca in the suburbs, anchored by minimum-wage jobs at Woodfield Mall, one of the country’s largest shopping centers. The village soon will opt out of Cook County’s ordinance.

“The village was disappointed with the lack of collaboration between Cook County and the suburbs in drafting these policies, especially since the suburbs will be greatly impacted by these two initiatives,” the village’s communications manager, Allison M. Albrecht, told me in an email. “It is the village’s belief that employer-related mandates are best left to be determined at the state or federal level.”

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, is sponsoring legislation to gradually increase Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour, the same as some California cities, New York and Seattle. It would make an income-tax hike likely to hit Illinois residents in the near future much easier to swallow for the working class, but I’m not confident his bill will become law.

At the county level, once one suburb opts out, others see an incentive to follow suit for fear of losing businesses to neighboring towns.

Some towns, such as Bartlett, Elgin and Barrington, are spread across more than one county. That’s also an incentive to opt out and keep a uniform wage. Barrington officials voted in December to forgo the increase. Bartlett and Elgin are leaning that way, according to officials.

Oak Forest and Mount Prospect opted out. La Grange was close to opting out, but Arise Chicago, an advocacy group for workers, rallied with locals to persuade village leaders to stick with the county’s increase.

Berkeley, Buffalo Grove, Des Plaines, Evergreen Park and Park Ridge are just some suburbs that might opt out of the wage increase. Most suburbs forgoing the increase also are opting out of giving employees paid sick days.

Shelly Ruzicka of Arise says elected officials in the suburbs who opt out are going against “the will of their people.”

They are choosing “to listen to the voice of a few, not the people who elected them.”

Voters supported a higher minimum wage in 2014 and paid sick leave in 2016 on non-binding ballot advisory questions.

This summer many in Cook County will find out they still haven’t won.

Email: MarlenGarcia777@yahoo.com

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