Four weeks ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order requiring city contractors and subcontractors to increase the “living wage” paid to their employees by nearly 9 percent — from $11.93 to $13 an hour.
Now, Emanuel is pressuring all local government agencies under his control — CTA, CHA, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, City Colleges and Public Building Commission — to follow his lead.
That would mean a pay raise for roughly 2,400 contract employees working as custodians, landscapers and bus drivers.
“The mayor is using every tool in the tool box to help move the city toward $13 an hour. The more we can do to boost the wages of working people in Chicago, the better off all of us are,” said Ald. Will Burns (4th), who co-chaired the mayor’s minimum wage task force.
“Having the sister agencies take a leadership role in advance of City Council [passage] takes away the argument from people in the business community that all of local government is not moving toward the $13 minimum wage. It’s both symbolic and substantive. And it certainly is not symbolic for people who are getting a pay raise.”
Won’t contractors and subcontractors forced to pay their employees $13-an-hour just pass those costs along to Chicago taxpayers? Burns is not so sure.
“They may find they have higher productivity, less turnover and higher job satisfaction because their employees are earning more money. If you have higher productivity and less turnover, that reduces your costs in the long run,” the alderman said.
Emanuel has been using the minimum wage issue to counter the “Mayor 1 Percent” label slapped on him by his critics and cut into the progressive political base of his two strongest challengers: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd).
That’s why the mayor decided to raise the living wage by executive order instead of proposing an ordinance and sharing credit with the City Council.
The Sept. 2 executive order applies to all service, construction and concession contracts advertised by the city after Oct. 1. That’s a surprise turnaround for a mayor who spent the last four years opposing an ordinance that would force airport concessionaires to pay their 1,500 employees a living wage,
In an effort to boost Democratic turnout, Gov. Pat Quinn and state House Speaker Michael Madigan are pushing a non-binding referendum asking voters whether the statewide minimum wage should be raised from $8.25 an hour to $10.
After hedging initially, Emanuel declared his intention to push for a vote on a Chicago-only minimum wage of $13 an hour by 2018, no matter what the General Assembly does in response to the statewide referendum.
Fioretti and Lewis favor a Chicago-only minimum wage of $15 an hour. But, Emanuel has said, “I know others have called for more. We think this is a balanced approach.”