$15 minimum wage in Chicago? Industry groups have mixed reactions

January 30, 2014

A ballot measure asking whether Chicago should require big companies to pay their workers at least $15 an hour is drawing mixed reactions from groups representing some of those employers.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is sounding an alarm. “This question really puts jobs in jeopardy,” said Tanya Triche, the association’s general counsel. “That’s the opposite direction that employers and employees want to go in the city.”

But the Illinois Restaurant Association did not criticize the proposal, which will appear as a nonbinding referendum March 18 in parts of the city.

“The discussion around the minimum-wage increase is extremely important to the restaurant industry, which is just beginning to see recovery after a long and difficult recession,” Sam Toia, the restaurant association’s president and CEO, said in a written statement. “We look forward to continued conversations with all stakeholders on the minimum-wage increase and its impact on businesses of all sizes.”

The proposed $15 minimum, backed by a group called the Raise Chicago Coalition, would apply only to companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million. The targets include franchises of restaurant chains such as McDonald’s, not just the giant corporations themselves, according to Amisha Patel, a spokeswoman of the coalition.

The referendum will take place in 103 of the city’s 2,069 precincts — about 5 percent.

On Thursday, 10 Chicago aldermen participated in a news conference to drum up support for the proposal.

“You should not have to go to work and come home and still find yourself in poverty after putting in a hard day’s work,” Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said. “So I’ll be encouraging all residents in my ward where this [question is on the ballot] to vote yes for the increase.”

The other aldermen at the news conference were John Arena (45th), Will Burns (4th), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Toni Foulkes (15th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Nick Sposato (36th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office did not answer whether he supported the proposal but said he backed calls for hikes at the state and federal levels. “The mayor has long advocated for an increase in the minimum wage and supports the efforts by President Obama and Governor Quinn to provide a wage that is fair to working families,” spokeswoman Catherine Turco said in a written statement.

Quinn on Wednesday called for a state minimum wage of at least $10 an hour. The Illinois minimum has been $8.25 since 2010.

Obama is calling for a federal hourly minimum of $10.10, up from $7.25, the rate since 2009. The White House on Tuesday announced that the president would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some federal contract workers to $10.10.

In 2006, a planned Chicago minimum wage for big-box retailers led to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s first veto.

Chip Mitchell is WBEZ’s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMitchell1 and @WBEZoutloud, and connect with him through Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.