Top Chicago business leader opposes $15 minimum wage, demands changes to ‘fair workweek’ ordinance

“You can’t use the business community as a piggybank . . . they’re not gonna create as many jobs. Companies aren’t gonna locate here and invest here,” Jack Lavin said.

SHARE Top Chicago business leader opposes $15 minimum wage, demands changes to ‘fair workweek’ ordinance

The CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce on Friday declared opposition to the city’s accelerated plan for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and demanded changes to an employee scheduling ordinance embraced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Jack Lavin said he’s well aware that the so-called “fair workweek” ordinance is personal to the new mayor. Her mother was a caretaker forced to navigate unpredictable scheduling and last-minute changes that turned child care into a nightmare.

But even after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, Lavin argued that an ordinance requiring Chicago companies to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of their schedules and compensate them for last-minute changes is not ready for a City Council vote.

“If this is truly about workers, they need predictability and flexibility. Predictability is the schedule and the advance notice. Flexibility is . . . a standby list if there’s workers [who] want more hours,” Lavin told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“I’ve got to change my schedule. I’ve got a family event. Can you switch with me? They want that flexibility. That’s a lot of times why they’re hourly workers. That standby list allows that to happen. It allows workers to say, ‘Anytime someone needs to change shifts, I want to be part of that.’”

Lavin argued that the long-stalled ordinance “takes away flexibility” and leaves workers with “less hours making less money.”

“We need to find middle ground,” he said.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said he’s not surprised by the opposition from “large corporations and hospital systems raking in record profits off the backs of their underpaid workforces.”

The scheduling ordinance — expected to get a City Council hearing Monday, but no vote — would limit the ability of large employers to “arbitrarily cut or reduce hours without compensating their workers,” Reiter said in a statement.

To minimize the burden on small business, the latest version of the scheduling ordinance now covers Chicago companies with 100 or more employees, up from 50 or more.

The Illinois Health and Hospital Association is demanding that Chicago’s 41 hospitals be excluded to avoid forcing “short-staffed” hospitals to “go on emergency bypass and force sick or injured patients to be transported to another hospital, wasting precious time they may not have.”

In a letter written this week to Workforce Development Committee Chairman Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), the hospital association’s president and CEO A.J. Wilhelm noted that “unplanned spikes in demand for life-saving health care” occur with alarming frequency and hospitals need “flexibility” to respond — not additional regulations that tie their hands.

“Under this ordinance, in order to be fully and appropriately staffed to meet unexpected, unplanned emergencies and ensure that patients receive timely, quality care, hospitals would be forced to pay a penalty for every employee who is called in on short notice,” Wilhelm wrote.

Chicago’s minimum wage is $12 an hour, increasing to $13 on July 1. That’s where it will stay until 2024 — when the state catches up to Chicago — unless the City Council takes action.

Lightfoot campaigned on a $15-an-hour minimum wage. So did many of Chicago’s 12 newly elected aldermen and reelected incumbents.

But Lavin said, “There’s always a problem . . . when you have multiple jurisdictions with different wages. Across the street, [suburban businesses] are paying [less] and then, in Chicago, they’re paying [more]. It creates an issue for businesses. We will be against that.”

Lavin served on Lightfoot’s transition team, where the clarion call was to “get the business community more involved” in solving the city’s vexing issues of violent crime and neighborhood dis-investment.

“On the other hand, they want to come back [with] a higher minimum wage, restrictive scheduling, paid sick leave. They want to put a lot of mandates on business,” Lavin said.

“You can’t have it both ways. You can’t use the business community as a piggybank to keep raising money because then, they’re not gonna create as many jobs. Companies aren’t gonna locate here and invest here.”

Reiter countered that hundreds of thousands of Chicagoans struggling with the rising cost of housing and health care “simply cannot wait six years for the minimum wage to reach $15 an hour.”

The Chicago Federation of Labor has an ownership stake in Sun-Times Media.

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