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Lightfoot backs off 10 p.m. liquor sales curfew as committee OKs worker protections in mayor’s pandemic relief plan

The mayor is now proposing a midnight cutoff of packaged booze sales. Aldermen said the city would be better off cracking down on problem businesses.

Beer sales have ebbed and flowed during the pandemic.
Liquor sales would be allowed until midnight under a new city proposal.
Louise Shumbris-Cukrov, stevecuk - stock.adobe.com

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday rolled back her proposed 10 p.m. liquor moratorium to midnight to avoid what would have been an embarrassing City Council defeat.

The mayor announced the “compromise” she had reached with influential alderman hours after a Council committee approved the worker protection portions of her pandemic relief package.

“We believe a midnight closure is a reasonable compromise that addresses the serious nuisance issues raised by late-night liquor sales without unduly burdening our business community,” Lightfoot was quoted as saying in a news release.

Aldermen from across the city had called the 10 p.m. closing time a non-starter, saying the city would be better off cracking down on problem businesses and not penalizing all of them as they struggle to get back on their feet.

It was clear that had Lightfoot continued to push the 10 p.m. moratorium, she was headed for her first Council defeat.

The worker protections passed by the Council’s Committee on Workforce Development on Tuesday include a requirement that Chicago’s domestic employees be paid at least $15 an hour and get written contracts outlining hours and working conditions.

Other protections include:

• A first-ever “wage-theft” ordinance to help Chicago’s most vulnerable workers recoup what City Hall pegs at “up to $400 million in wages stolen” from them every year by “bad-faith employers.”

“The ChiBiz Strong initiative will grant us authority to go after these bad faith employers and recoup money for exploited workers while also leveling the playing field for the vast majority of employers that treat their workers fairly,” Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Commissioner Rosa Escareno told aldermen.

“This deals with your unscrupulous bad operators. When we find that there are problem operators undercutting and not paying the [right] wages, we want to shut those businesses down.”

• Clarifying Chicago’s minimum wage ordinance to ensure that chain businesses do not, as Escareno put it, “undercount their employees in order to pay a lower minimum wage.”

• Strengthening Chicago’s paid sick leave ordinance by allowing workers to take paid leave to care for family members if their school or place of care is closed. The revised ordinance would also cover mental and behavior health and “future public health orders.”

Escareno said the protections are “not only a COVID-19 recovery plan, but also the next bold step” in Lightfoot’s “ongoing commitment to make Chicago the friendliest city for workers in the country.”

“To truly recover from this pandemic, we cannot simply return to business as usual,” the commissioner said.

“This initiative is a critical next step in fulfilling our pledge to workers. But there is even more to be done. Our workers deserve it.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) demanded to know how the new worker protections would be enforced — and whether Escareno’s Office of Labor Standards “has the manpower to enforce” the guarantees.

“We believe that our existing team made up of a director and four additional employees …are set up in a way that we can absolutely take this on,” she said.

“We can always do more with more resources. But, it does not stop us from elevating the priorities in terms of protecting the workers in Chicago.”

Beale also questioned Escareno’s bold claim about the impact of the employee protections.

“You guys are framing it as though this is going to grow our economy. This is going to get everything back on track and I just don’t see it,” Beale said.

“You’re telling me about protecting workers. But how do we grow workers? How is this gonna help grow the economy? How is this going to help us get people back to work? How is this gonna help put revenue back in the city’s coffers?”

Escareno pointed to the protections for domestic workers.

“Bringing them to a $15 minimum wage. Bringing them to the forefront. Ensuring they have a contract in place when they’re working and making sure there are protections in there for them makes sure that the people who are trying to get back to work can go back to work,” she said.

“If they need to hire somebody to care for their children, that’s another way to make sure that those individuals that, but for that domestic worker, cannot get back to work.”

Workforce Development Chairman Susan Sadlowski Garza (10th) said Beale “brought up some really good points,” including his claim that extended jobless benefits have discouraged some people from even looking for a job.

But, Garza said: “Peoples’ unemployment is gonna run out. Once that happens, I think we’re gonna see a lot of people go back into the workforce.”

The $15 minimum wage would apply to anyone employing a domestic worker, even if they clean your house just twice a month.

Escareno plans to mitigate that potential bureaucratic nightmare by posting a short-and-sweet one-page contract on her department website that homeowners can download.

City inspectors won’t knock on every door. But if housekeepers complain about a boss who isn’t paying at least $15-an-hour, their employer will be asked to produce the contract. They also run the risk of being fined.

“We need the domestic workers to feel valued and to be protected. They are among the most vulnerable employees,” Escareno has said.

“We want to make sure that there is a very simple contract where you say you’re getting the minimum wage and these are the conditions of work.”