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Chicago workers at minimum wage get raise to $12 per hour

Demonstrators fighting for a $15-per-hour minimum wage march through downtown during rush hour on May 23 in Chicago. | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

As part of a five-year plan to increase the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2019, Chicago’s new $12 minimum wage takes effect July 1.

Since 2014, the wage has steadily risen from the Illinois minimum of $8.25 to $11 per hour. A press release from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office said that the increase will affect more than 400,000 workers.

“No parents who work full-time in the City of Chicago should ever have to raise their children in poverty,” Emanuel said in the release. “Higher wages are good for families, communities and our economy.”

Vernon Bobo is one parent who will be getting a raise. Though grateful that the extra dollar per hour signifies progress, Bobo said it is still not enough.

“It’s gonna help out a little bit. I’m gonna have a little more leeway with certain things,” the Wendy’s crew member said. “I’m still gonna be in a struggle.”

Bobo looks forward to ultimately achieving a $15 minimum wage. With more people — himself included — in workers’ rights organizations like Fight for 15, he thinks “time is coming.”

The mayor’s office plans to index the wage to inflation after reaching $13, according to its website.

Opponents to raising the minimum wage warn that when labor prices rise, other prices do too – and business tends to avoid expanding in high minimum wage areas.

But Frank Manzo, co-author of a study conducted by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, argues that the ordinance has been successful — and more can be done.

The hikes have not negatively impacted Chicago’s unemployment, Manzo said. They have also resulted in lower income inequality and modest business growth.

Yet while the ordinance is a “reasonably balanced policy” that has benefited more than a quarter of the city’s workforce, Manzo said it “warrants further coverage and expansion.”

Teenage workers under the age of 18, for instance, can still receive 50 cents less than the state minimum wage of $8.25. And certain occupations, such as private security guards and recreation or fitness workers, are assumed to fall under state jurisdiction and exempt from “home rule,” Manzo said.

“The interpretation can be expanded to include all these occupations,” Manzo said. “(The city) could raise the minimum wage for those workers with one vote.”

Iashea Cross, for instance, works as a personal assistant with the Department of Human Services. Though she earns more than Chicago’s minimum wage under her individual contract, others still continue to make less than $11.

Iashea Cross speaks at a SEIU press conference Friday calling for a higher minimum wage. | Service Employees International Union
Iashea Cross speaks at a SEIU press conference Friday calling for a higher minimum wage. | Service Employees International Union

The IEPI study also recommended a statewide minimum wage increase.

She and others at the Service Employees International Union are urging Governor Bruce Rauner to approve a state minimum wage of $15, which he vetoed last year. At the time, the governor cited research at the University of Washington that found for every 10 percent increase in hourly earnings for low wage workers there was a 30 percent reduction in employers providing jobs.

“We’re fighting for the people that make this city and the state go around,” Cross said. “We feel that the governor doesn’t understand what thousands of people sacrifice (to do their jobs).”

SEIU Healthcare is among the labor unions with an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.