Emanuel signs executive order raising living wage to $13 an hour

SHARE Emanuel signs executive order raising living wage to $13 an hour
SHARE Emanuel signs executive order raising living wage to $13 an hour

Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order Wednesday requiring city contractors to pay their employees $13 an hour — 9 percent more than the $11.93 currently required — and broadened the “living wage” umbrella to include airport concessionaires.

Emanuel called it a “downpayment” on his broader promise to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13-an-hour by 2018, no matter how the Illinois General Assembly responds to a non-binding referendum on the issue.

In 1998, the City Council voted to require city contractors to pay a living wage to provide political cover for an aldermanic pay raise.

It happened again in 2002. Employees of city contractors got a 19 percent pay raise — and annual increases tied to the federal poverty rate — to set the stage for another aldermanic pay raise. The living wage now stands at $11.93-an-hour.

Emanuel has been using the minimum wage issue to counter the “Mayor 1%” 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 apparently why he decided to raise the living wage by executive order, instead of proposing an ordinance and sharing credit with the City Council.

The executive order would apply to all service, construction and concession contracts advertised by the city after Oct. 1. That’s a surprise turnaround for a mayor who has spent nearly four years sandbagging an ordinance that would force airport concessionaires to pay their 1,500 employees a living wage.

Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) introduced the airport living wage ordinance in 2011 to coincide with a major overhaul of concessions at O’Hare Airport’s international terminal proposed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley and pushed through by Emanuel in the first test of the new mayor’s City Council clout.

On Wednesday, Munoz was surprised and delighted by Emanuel’s about-face on the issue.

“We’ve been fighting for some time now to include concessionaires in Chicago’s living wage. For him to do it now — it’s really a good thing. I’m glad he’s taking the steps necessary to increase wages for these workers — especially low-wage workers at the airport,” Munoz said.

Pressed on whether he believes the mayor’s motives are political, Munoz said, “I’m not even gonna go there. I’m just glad we got there.”

At a news conference at an environmental consulting firm in the Loop that would be impacted by the executive order, Emanuel called the executive order a “downpayment towards the goal that would impact 400,000” workers: by phasing in a Chicago-only minimum wage of $13-an-hour by 2018.

“Throughout my life, I have believed that, if you work, no child should be raised in poverty. Work should pay. People need a pay raise… It creates a floor so you can afford a family,” the mayor said.

“Just like the president did it on the national level — just like my colleague in Philadelphia has done it — we’re taking the steps here in Chicago …. One small business that’s doing right by their employees and their families [will no longer be] held at a disadvantage to somebody that under-cuts them.”

Emanuel was asked why he decided to go around the City Council. Chief Procurement Officer Jamie Rhee stepped forward to answer the question for him.

“This is a bold statement by the mayor to issue an executive order so that we can immediately start in our bids notifying the vendors that there is an increase and that they can factor it into the bids going forward,” Rhee said.

“That is important to us. It’s a level playing field. Everyone knows the rules and regulations and who it applies to…. It also expands the areas that would be covered.”

In an effort to boost Democratic turnout, Gov. Pat Quinn and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) are pushing a non-binding referendum asking voters whether the statewide minimum wage should be raised from $8.25-an-hour to $10.

Earlier this summer, a mayoral task force recommended that the minimum wage in Chicago be gradually raised to $13-an-hour by 2018.

Emanuel embraced the findings and denied political motives. But the mayor said he would not decide whether to ask the City Council to take action on the ordinance until after the Nov. 4 election and the veto session that follows.

Last week, the mayor changed his tune. He 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.

Fioretti and Lewis favor a Chicago-only minimum wage of $15-an-hour. But Emanuel said Wednesday, “I know others have called for more. We think this is a balanced approach.”

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