As small business owners, we know: $15 an hour entirely reasonable

SHARE As small business owners, we know: $15 an hour entirely reasonable

Joshua Kulp at work at Honey Butter Fried Chicken, located in Chicago’s Avondale neighborhood. / Kelly Wenzel/ For the Sun-Times

Last week, the state Legislature in Illinois became the first in the Midwest to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. Now the proposal heads to the desk of Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has the economic fate of more than 2 million working Illinoisans in his hands.

As small business owners, we see only one course of action for the governor: sign this bill to rebuild our middle-class and strengthen our economy.


While corporate lobbyists argue raising wages will be bad for small businesses like ours, we know that businesses perform better when workers are taken care of — and that the hard- working families of Illinois deserve better than $8.25.

The Honey Butter Fried Chicken family didn’t want to wait for legislators in Springfield to give our employees a leg up. That’s why we pay all our employee’s at least $13 an hour and plan on lifting our base wage to $15 an hour by 2019 or sooner. On top of that, we offer health benefits, paid sick time and time off, paid parental leave, and profit sharing options.

When we raised wages for our team, we saw lower turnover and improved employee retention, which translated into big savings on training and recruitment. We also saw a significant boost in productivity and workplace morale, along with improved customer service.

But the benefits of higher wages go beyond our storefront: they hit Main Street too. By raising wages we’re arming our workers with more purchasing power, giving them a chance to put more money into the local economy. With necessities like rent and bills taken care of, people will spend extra cash splurging on a movie, a new pair of shoes — or even a night out eating delicious fried chicken.

We don’t have to look much farther than San Francisco, Seattle and New York for evidence of $15 an hour’s success. Each city has continued strong job growth as wages have increased. Chicago, which enacted a $13 per hour minimum wage, is driving job growth in the region — it’s time to bring this prosperity and opportunity to every corner of the state.

Industry lobbyists say the sky will fall, but consider this: the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a study in December 2016 of all U.S. minimum wage increases since the recession, and found that that they boosted pay for workers without hurting local economies.

In California, which approved and is phasing in a $15 minimum wage, Bill Phelps, CEO of Wetzel’s Pretzels with 100 stores statewide, and franchise owner Mike Jacobs report that they have already seen higher sales resulting from their customers having more money to spend.

Illinois is in the middle of a fiscal crisis, and raising the minimum wage would help take some pressure off Illinois taxpayers who end up subsidizing — through public assistance programs — employers unwilling to pay a living wage. In fact, a new analysis from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign shows that raising the minimum wage to $15 would generate $2.3 billion dollars in new state and local revenue to help ease the ongoing budget crisis.

This bill would be a big step forward for our state, but it can’t be the last. Tipped workers in Illinois are paid only 40 percent of the minimum wage by their employers, leaving them at the mercy of arbitrary and sometimes discriminatory tipping to cover the rest. States and municipalities that have eliminated the outdated tipped sub-minimum wage are thriving. Illinois should join them by passing One Fair Wage for everyone.

Our bottom line is that everyone who works should be able to earn a decent wage and have a decent life. More than 40 percent of the Illinois workforce are paid less than $15, leaving millions across our state locked in poverty. Raising the minimum wage isn’t just the smart thing to do for the economy, it’s the right thing to do for our communities.

We’re calling on Gov. Rauner to do the right thing and sign $15 an hour into law when it reaches his desk.

Josh Kulp and Christine Cikowski are owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Chicago.

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