Mayor Emanuel backs Chicago minimum wage hike to $13

July 9, 2014

AP/file
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Tuesday he is backing a plan to boost the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour. The proposal was put together by a mayoral appointed-group of aldermen, labor and business leaders, but the plan isn’t likely to hit the City Council floor for a while.

Right now, the minimum wage in Illinois is $8.25. Emanuel said he wants the city to raise that to $13, but it would be phased in over four years

“Nobody who works should raise a child in poverty. That’s the American way,” Emanuel said. “And our effort here is to make sure that the city of Chicago is on record as it relates to raising the minimum wage."

Tipped employees - like waiters or waitresses -- would also see a $1 bump in their wages over two years. And after that, the mayor’s task force suggest the minimum wage be tied to inflation.

To make his case, the mayor’s office brought in Elizabeth Guzman. She’s a single mom - she and her son Daniel are suriviors of domestic violence. Guzman says she was able to escape when Daniel was two and has lived in a number of shelters since.

Daniel sat behind me during the press conference, quietly playing with a plastic bow and arrow.
Guzman says she’s been trying to wean herself off government services, but her wages are too low.

“Parents are - we are working a lot - extra hours. We don’t have time to spend with kids and the street is full of gangs. I don’t want my son to live in this kind of condition,” she said.

The Mayor’s office calculates that raising the minimum wage to $13 would increase the earnings for Guzman and about 410,000 other Chicagoans. The administration says that would pump a grand total of nearly $800,000,000 into the local economy over four years.

Fourteen members of the task force signed off on the plan.

“The data showed that if you phase in the higher minimum wage, you allow businesses to prepare for their increased cost, and then you also still at the same time create a stimulus to the economy, which will help businesses at the same time,” said Ald. Will Burns (4), co-chair of the task force.

But some local business groups, including three members of the task force, say this plan won’t help businesses at all.

Tanya Triche, Vice President of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, says she opposed the plan, as it’s clear that other states are trying to poach Illinois businesses. She says increasing the minimum wage will increase labor costs -- making Chicago a less attractive place to do business.

“I think people need to remember that employers are increasingly mobile, and they have a lot of choices as to where they can locate and have those jobs, and we obviously want Chicago to be one of those places where they come [to],” she said.

Triche’s group, as well as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce have long opposed raising the minimum wage - so it might not be surprising that they don’t like this. But even some stalwart activists of boosting wages have problems with it.

Aileen Kelleher is communications director for Action Now. They weren’t on the task force, but they’re part of the Raise Chicago coalition, and helped lead a Chicago fast food workers strike for $15 an hour.

Kelleher says $13 is a good start, but it’s not enough.

“It wouldn’t be $13 until 2018 and at that point $13 is only 9 cents above the poverty line so its not close to a living wage,” she said.

The Chicago City Council would have to approve this plan, but that may not happen for a while. The task force also recommended waiting to see whether lawmakers in Springfield increase the wage for the whole state first.

Meanwhile, Illinois voters will also get their say in November: a non-binding ballot referendum asks voters whether the state minimum wage should be bumped to $10 an hour.

Even still, Emanuel says he’ll keep pushing for $13 in Chicago.

Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian