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City Council committee OKs Emanuel’s $13-an-hour minimum wage

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019 was approved by a key City Council committee Monday evening, clearing the way for it to be brought up before the full Council on Tuesday.

The 19-member Workforce Development and Audit Committee approved the measure with 3 “no” votes.

Passage of the minimum wage hike is a cornerstone of Emanuel’s shift to the political left — a move that will help him undercut the progressive base of his two strongest challengers: Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) and Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.

Approval is all but guaranteed during a special Council meeting the mayor called for Tuesday, but his move did raise the hackles of some critics.

On Emanuel’s left flank, progressives argued the wage hike, which will be phased in over several years, doesn’t go far enough. Indeed, members of the Council’s progressive caucus were pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Fioretti offered a rebuke of the mayor’s plan. He also accused Emanuel of championing the $13-an-hour Chicago minimum wage in a belated attempt to undercut the progressive political base of Fioretti and Garcia.

“It’s not enough. Clearly, it’s not enough. $15 an hour… is what we’re going to continue to fight for,” Fioretti said.

In contrast, several aldermen and industry groups said hiking the minimum wage as high as $13 an hour put businesses in jeopardy.

“Most of these employers, they don’t get paid if the company doesn’t make money,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). “These businesses have not fully recovered [from the recession]. Health care has not been resolved. And also the Internet has tremendous impact on retail, and that impact is driving prices down.”

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the mayor’s rush to push the measure through was reminiscent of “a previous administration.” Former Mayor Richard M. Daley used strong-arm tactics to ram through the now widely reviled parking meter privatization deal.

“You’re asking folks — and this is something we saw under a previous administration — to process a lot of information and substantive changes in a very short period of time,” Reilly said. “That has not been my experience with this administration, so I’m frustrated.

Tunney and Reilly joined Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) to vote “no.”

Hours before the committee vote, business and progressive groups held dueling press conferences at City Hall, making the case for widely different outcomes.

The Raise Chicago Coalition declared a partial victory but vowed to continue the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers — even those who rely on tips

The issue for the group is the fact that the mayor’s plan only raises the hourly wage for tip workers by a dollar, to $5.95.

Nataki Rhodes, a 10-year veteran tip worker representing the Restaurant Opportunity Center, noted that 70 percent of tip workers are women.

“While tip workers can make a living wage as bartenders and servers, this is in fine-dining positions where white workers are twice as likely to be hired than women of color. Women and people of color mainly work in fast-food, casual dining,” Rhodes said.

Under the mayor’s plan, Rhodes said, “Women and people of color will lose out. Tip workers want one fair wage. No separate low wage. How can anyone in good faith continue to pass business profits while we tip workers are suffering, standing on our feet all day, serving, bartending, washing dishes so customers can have a nice meal? The $13 ordinance is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t go far enough…. We continue to fight for $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers.”

Business groups argued just the opposite.

The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, the Illinois Restaurant Association and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association appear to favor a lesser, statewide increase in Illinois’ $8.25-an-hour minimum wage.

But they’re vehemently opposed to a Chicago-only increase to $13 an hour that’s part of a “piecemeal” approach.

“Our businesses already have to compete against neighboring states. Now, they will have to compete against businesses with a 57 percent labor cost advantage in Calumet Park, Bridgeview, Cicero, Elmwood Park, Lincolnwood and Park Ridge,” said Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia.

“Residents of our community will be flooded with suburban workers, who’ll be clamoring for those higher wages. This ordinance will hit Chicago with a double whammy. Fewer jobs will be available and there’ll be more competition for those jobs from suburban residents. Those workers will spend their earnings back in their own communities — not Chicago.”

Hank Meyer, an owner of BJ’s Market and Bakery, 1156 West 79th St., warned that a Chicago-only minimum wage that rises to $13 an hour by 2019 “potentially puts me out of business.”

“Prices for my labor would increase by more than 50 percent, forcing me to raise prices an additional ten percent. I’m from the South Side of Chicago, and I don’t know how much the customers that I serve can stand,” Meyer said.

Emanuel first dropped his wage-hiking proposal last summer. At the time, he wanted to wait for the General Assembly to increase the statewide wage to $10 an hour — a cornerstone of Gov. Pat Quinn’s re-election campaign. But Quinn lost, and Republican Bruce Rauner won. Now a hike in the statewide minimum wage is far from certain.

Two weeks ago, 34 aldermen who want to raise Chicago’s minimum wage warned the General Assembly not to tie their hands.

In a letter to Quinn, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, they sounded the alarm about an “alternative proposal floating around Springfield” that would raise the state’s minimum wage, but “pre-empt” Chicago and other home-rule units from going above it.

No such language has surfaced publicly in Springfield, nor is it in the bill sponsored by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) that has cleared an Illinois Senate committee.

But the aldermen were so concerned about such a proposal, they wanted to nip it in the bud before it gained any traction.

Emanuel subsequently called the special City Council meeting for Tuesday to rush through a revised version of his ordinance and beat the General Assembly to the punch.

The original ordinance to emerge from a mayoral task force on the minimum wage would have increased Chicago’s minimum wage on June 1 to $9.50 an hour and increased it gradually to $13 an hour by sometime in 2018.

The new version starts by increasing the hourly wage to $10, giving Chicago businesses an extra year to reach the $13 mark.