‘Check your check’: Minimum wage increases Friday in Chicago and Cook County

“To Chicago’s businesses, I want to say loud and clear: Labor laws are not optional. We will hold you accountable,” said a city official on consumer protection.

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Chicago Office of Labor Standards Director Andrew Fox reminds workers Thursday to “check your check” for more pay as minimum wage increases go into effect Friday in Chicago and Cook County.

Chicago Office of Labor Standards Director Andrew Fox reminds workers Thursday to “check your check” for more pay as minimum wage increases go into effect Friday in Chicago and Cook County.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The city’s more than 430,000 minimum wage workers have one job: check their paychecks in two weeks — if they worked the same hours, at the same place, they should see more cash.

Chicago’s minimum wage is increasing Friday, along with Cook County’s. The city’s Fair Workweek ordinance and sexual harassment laws are also expanding. At the same time, the Illinois Family Relief Plan takes effect.

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Andrew Fox, director of labor standards for Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, warned businesses not to flub the changes during a news conference Thursday hosted by Arise Chicago, a labor-focused nonprofit.

“To Chicago’s businesses, I want to say loud and clear: Labor laws are not optional. We will hold you accountable.”

Minimum wage increases

For non-tipped workers at Chicago businesses with 4 to 20 employees, the minimum wage will now be $14.50 per hour; for tipped workers it will be $8.70.

For non-tipped workers at larger Chicago businesses, the minimum wage will be $15.40; it will increase to $9.24 for tipped employees.

Noncompliant Chicago businesses will be fined $500 to $1000 for each offense.

In Cook County, the minimum wage will increase to $13.35 for non-tipped workers and to $7.40 for tipped workers in Barrington Hills, Berwyn, Countryside, Deerfield, Dolton, Evanston, Glencoe, Kenilworth, McCook, Northfield, Oak Brook, Oak Park, Phoenix, Skokie, University Park, Western Springs, Wilmette and Winnetka.

Overtime rates for non-tipped and tipped employees will increase in Chicago and the listed Cook County municipalities.

Illinois’ minimum wage will remain at $12.

What to watch for

Laura Garza, a leader in Arise Chicago, urged workers to watch out for employers who may be unaware of the changes.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for things to get lost in the mix, or employers will take advantage of the opportunity to let their employees get lost in the mix,” Garza said. “It’s a hot mess.”

Workers, for example, whose employer is based outside of Chicago but actually work in Chicago, for at least two hours, could earn the Chicago minimum wage.

Arise organizer Jorge Mujica warned tipped workers to stand their ground. “Employers will try to say this is just for non-tipped workers. That’s not true. The minimum wage for tipped workers is also increasing.”

Mujica said that the minimum wage varies within Cook County because workers outside of those jurisdictions haven’t pushed local officials to adhere to the Cook County minimum wage. However, he and Garza said that could change if workers organize and that doing so is protected by the National Labor Relations Board.

Chicago’s minimum wage for larger businesses will also apply to domestic workers. “Traditionally,” Fox said, “[that means] home care, nannying, house cleaning, chauffeuring, things that happen in the home.” Even a dog walker that performs part of their job inside the house could potentially get the same wage guarantee.

Other changes

In Chicago, the Fair Workweek ordinance is expanding so that employers will have to notify workers of their schedules 14 days in advance instead of 10. The 2019 ordinance also requires employers to pay employees additional wages for sudden schedule changes.

Noncompliant businesses will be fined $300 to $500 for each offense.

Laws governing sexual harassment in the workplace now require employers to have a written sexual harassment policy; to notify employees of their right to be free from sexual harassment; and to require additional sexual harassment training. The penalty per violation is increasing to $5,000 to $10,000.

In addition to the changing protections for workers in Chicago, Illinois’ Family Relief Plan takes effect Friday. The plan includes a temporary cut in sales taxes for gas, groceries and school supplies; property tax rebates; and $50 income tax rebates for individual filers. Tax rebates will be automatically issued to all of the estimated 6.2 million taxpayers who qualify.

What to do if you think there’s been a violation

Workers that suspect their employers violated their rights can file a complaint or just a question by calling 311 on the phone or in the CHI311 app or by emailing Fox’s office at bacplaborstandards@cityofchicago.org.

Fox said they defend workers regardless of immigration status or whether they’re paid in cash.

Following a complaint, the office will subpoena the payroll records of an entire business and interview enough workers to ensure that a victim’s identity isn’t revealed.

Last year, Fox said his office restored over $1 million to workers.

Employers that help restore wages to their workers can have their fines lowered.

“To the workers, we see you. We hear you; do not hesitate to reach out to our office. In our office you’ve got an ally, a place where we keep investigations confidential so employers cannot retaliate against you,” Fox said.

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