WBEZ | minimum wage http://www.wbez.org/tags/minimum-wage Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Morning Shift: The future of Chicago's minimum wage http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-06-03/morning-shift-future-chicagos-minimum-wage-110271 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/rahm task force Flickr Viewminder.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We hear from two members of mayor Emanuel&#39;s minimum wage task force that just wrapped up its inaugural meeting. Also, how the Chicago Public Schools is doing with efforts to expand composting. Plus, the history of film censorship in Illinois.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-future-of-chicago-s-minimum-wage/embed?header=false&amp;border=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-future-of-chicago-s-minimum-wage.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-future-of-chicago-s-minimum-wage" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: The future of Chicago's minimum wage" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 03 Jun 2014 07:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-06-03/morning-shift-future-chicagos-minimum-wage-110271 Morning Shift: Heroin still a growing epidemic in the suburbs http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-28/morning-shift-heroin-still-growing-epidemic-suburbs <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Cover Flickr Thomas Marthinsen.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Some City Council members are pushing for a higher minimum wage. We get the latest. We also spotlight a panel that&#39;s tackling the heroin problem in the suburbs. And, Ayana Contreras is back with more reclaimed soul.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-heroin-in-the-suburbs/embed?header=false&border=false" width="100%" height=750 frameborder=no allowtransparency=true></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-heroin-in-the-suburbs.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-heroin-in-the-suburbs" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Heroin still a growing epidemic in the suburbs" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Wed, 28 May 2014 08:05:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-05-28/morning-shift-heroin-still-growing-epidemic-suburbs 7-Eleven warns Chicago franchisee who criticized company http://www.wbez.org/news/7-eleven-warns-chicago-franchisee-who-criticized-company-110064 <p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Syed.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 263px; width: 300px;" title="Hashim Syed, owner of a 7-Eleven franchise on the city’s North Side, received a written warning from the Dallas-based company eight days after WBEZ aired his grievances. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" />7-Eleven Inc. is coming down on a Chicago franchisee who criticized the Dallas-based company on WBEZ.</p><p>Hashim Syed, who has run a 7-Eleven in the city&rsquo;s Rogers Park neighborhood since 1990, invited two WBEZ reporters to his store for an interview. He told them how the world&rsquo;s largest convenience-store chain has tightened rules for its franchisees over the years.</p><p>Syed said the company, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Seven &amp; I Holdings Co., had dumped its employment responsibilities on franchisees.</p><p>&ldquo;We are nothing more than a glorified manager,&rdquo; Syed said in the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/bigger-burgers-and-fries-franchising-blamed-low-wages-109978" target="_blank">WBEZ report</a>, broadcast April 8. &ldquo;I take the heat from the customer if anything goes wrong. I take the heat from the workers if something goes wrong.&rdquo;<br /><br />One week after the broadcast, 7-Eleven officials inspected his store. Syed said the inspection took place without notice. He identified the officials as Bill Engen and Ena Williams, both senior vice presidents based at the Dallas headquarters.</p><p>The next day, a 7-Eleven &ldquo;letter of notification&rdquo; accused Syed of violating his franchise agreement because some products were out of stock and because he allegedly was not using one of his hot-dog grills as required. The letter was accompanied by 17 photos showing spots on Syed&rsquo;s shelves where products were sold out. The letter did not mention his statements to WBEZ.</p><p>Warning letters from franchisors are not uncommon. The franchisees usually have a chance to fix the problems. But a letter could also lead to trouble, even a 7-Eleven takeover of the store.</p><p>&ldquo;This is nothing but retaliation,&rdquo; said Jas Dhillon, a 7-Eleven franchisee in Los Angeles and vice chair of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven Franchisees. &ldquo;We carry over 2,500 items in our store, from soda pops to candies to hot dogs to magazines to lottery tickets. Being out of stock of 17 &mdash; that&rsquo;s less than 1 percent. Any given day, not just at 7-Eleven, at any of the other stores, you&rsquo;re going to have items that we run out of, especially when you just had a hot weekend.&rdquo;<br /><br />Dhillon said 7-Eleven was trying to silence Syed and pointed out that the Chicago franchisee once won a national award from the company because, Dhillon said, &ldquo;he ran the best store in the country.&rdquo;<br /><br />Engen and Williams did not respond to WBEZ requests for comment on Syed&rsquo;s case. Neither did the Chicago-area 7-Eleven official who issued Syed the warning letter.</p><p>Company spokeswoman Margaret Chabris sent a written statement that said her company &ldquo;does not discuss publicly matters concerning our relationships with individual 7-Eleven franchisees.&rdquo; Asked whether the 7-Eleven letter to Syed came in response to his WBEZ interview, Chabris did not answer.<br /><br />The interview was not the first time Syed had criticized 7-Eleven. He publishes a <a href="http://7-elevenfoac.com/data/newsletter/FOACMay2013FinalNewsletter.pdf" target="_blank">newsletter</a> for Chicago-area 7-Eleven franchisees that questions how the company treats them.<br /><br />In the WBEZ report, Syed blamed 7-Eleven policies and the franchise model for his store&rsquo;s low wages. &ldquo;That worker who is working also thinks &mdash; and I know it for a fact &mdash; that I am just greedy and I want to keep all the money in my pocket instead of giving him fair wages,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The report included competing claims by economists about how franchising affects wages and jobs.</p><p>In the report, Chabris and another 7-Eleven official said workplace conditions were the responsibility of franchisees.</p><p>Chabris added that Syed had a right to speak out. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s freedom of speech,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s fine.&rdquo;</p><p>Syed, meanwhile, is planning to board a Thursday flight from Chicago to Japan, where he will meet with other 7-Eleven franchisees. He said he is working to strengthen ties between 7-Eleven franchisees around the world so they have more power to stand up to the company.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 23 Apr 2014 18:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/7-eleven-warns-chicago-franchisee-who-criticized-company-110064 Morning Shift: Legislation aims to make changes at charter schools http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-08/morning-shift-legislation-aims-make-changes-charter <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Classroom Flickr cayoup.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We look at what some charter school supporters are hoping for as several bills work their way through the state legislature. Plus, how the popular business model of franchising is squeezing small business owners between corporations and workers.&nbsp;</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-what-s-at-stake-for-charter-schools/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-what-s-at-stake-for-charter-schools.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-what-s-at-stake-for-charter-schools" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Legislation aims to make changes at charter schools" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 08:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-04-08/morning-shift-legislation-aims-make-changes-charter Bigger than burgers and fries, franchising blamed for low wages http://www.wbez.org/news/bigger-burgers-and-fries-franchising-blamed-low-wages-109978 <p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/29724231&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchising%201%20FINAL_sh.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 233px; width: 350px;" title="Hashim Syed, owner of a 7-Eleven in Chicago, says company rules make it hard for him to cut costs so he could pay employees more. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" />When we asked what it is like to own a franchise of the world&rsquo;s largest convenience-store chain, Hashim Syed took us to a cramped back room of his store, a 7-Eleven on Chicago&rsquo;s North Side.</p><p>Sitting next to a wall of tubes filled with bright-colored syrup for the soda machine, Syed recalled a young man working the graveyard shift a few years back. This employee wanted to be with his father, who was gravely ill.</p><p>&ldquo;Where we come from,&rdquo; said Syed, 71, who was born in India, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s very important that you spend the final days with parents for the comfort.&rdquo;</p><p>But the worker could not afford to take unpaid leave. And Syed could not afford to replace him. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d have had to have somebody else do his work,&rdquo; Syed said, his voice becoming faint. &ldquo;I would have ended up paying two wages.&rdquo;</p><p>The employee kept most of his shifts and, to this day, Syed regrets it. &ldquo;I wish I would have given him some time off,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In Syed&rsquo;s nearly quarter century as a 7-Eleven franchisee, he has worked brutally long hours, his profits have fallen far short of his expectations, and the Dallas-based chain has imposed tighter rules on how he runs the store.</p><p>But something that particularly steams Syed is his role as an employer. He says all of those 7-Eleven rules limit his ability to cut costs and free up resources to treat his workers better. &ldquo;When I lived in Bombay,&rdquo; Syed said, &ldquo;this is not what I thought they meant by the American Dream.&rdquo;</p><p>An array of signs suggests Syed is not the only one questioning how franchising affects the workplace.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="400" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/6fidL51oakg?list=UUkpMCLrDFxb1n74GOOw81-w" width="600"></iframe></p><p>Franchisees are pushing several states to clamp down on allegedly predatory franchisor practices. Web sites such as <a href="http://www.bluemaumau.org/">Blue MauMau</a> and <a href="http://www.unhappyfranchisee.com/">Unhappy Franchisee</a> have sprung up to connect these small business owners and give them a voice.</p><p>In one industry, &ldquo;franchisees&rdquo; have won a string of class-action lawsuits claiming that they are really employees and that their employers are using the franchise model to skirt wage-and-hour laws.</p><p>Franchises, especially those serving fast food, have also become frequent protest sites for a movement demanding higher wages and benefits such as paid sick leave. Those protests have grown louder as some politicians, ranging from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to President Barack Obama, call for raising the minimum wage.</p><p>And, while many economists and business groups praise franchising as efficient, the model is taking hits from some scholars, including an Obama nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor&rsquo;s Wage and Hour Division. That nominee says franchising is part of something much bigger &mdash; something bad for the workplace.</p><p><strong>How Franchising Works</strong></p><p>Franchising dates back to the 19th century, when manufacturers such as the Singer Sewing Machines Company developed the model for sales representatives. By the 1960s, franchising was ubiquitous, thanks to fast-food chains such as McDonald&rsquo;s and Burger King. Today franchising takes place in a dizzying range of industries, from tax services to child care, from real estate to car repair.</p><p>The number of U.S. franchise jobs in recent years has grown, now totaling more than 8.1 million &mdash; about 7 percent of private-sector jobs, according to data from payroll processor ADP. Franchise employment growth has outpaced jobs growth in the economy as a whole for 12 consecutive months, the data show.</p><p>In Illinois, franchise employment totals almost 345,000, according to the<a href="http://www.franchise.org/"> International Franchise Association</a> Educational Foundation. As of January, 1,152 companies had active registrations to sell franchises in Illinois, the state attorney general&rsquo;s office says.</p><p>Here is how the model works. A company thinks it has a good thing going and decides to expand. But it may not be familiar with the new places and may be short on capital. It also does not want to employ the necessary workers. It would rather have someone else do that &mdash; someone with skin in the game.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchising%202%20FINAL_sh.png" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 244px; width: 350px;" title="Amjad “AJ” Haj, who co-owns three Al’s Beef franchises in Chicago, praises the company’s support to run them. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" />&ldquo;A franchisee will do the best job,&rdquo; said David Howey, who bought an old Chicago sandwich brand, <a href="http://alsbeef.com/">Al&rsquo;s Beef</a>, and stepped up the chain&rsquo;s franchising. &ldquo;Instead of a large company having a bunch of managers who are running the stores, a franchisee buys into the system and it becomes their business. It becomes their life. So the brand is represented properly by people who really care.&rdquo;</p><p>For the franchisees, the model allows them to run their own business and take advantage of company resources for things such as property, equipment, training and marketing.</p><p>The franchisees also pay an upfront sum known as the franchise fee, typically five figures. Once in business, they pay a specified royalty &mdash; often 5-10 percent of sales &mdash; and fees for things such as advertising, management and insurance.</p><p>Amjad &ldquo;AJ&rdquo; Haj, who owns three Al&rsquo;s Beef franchises with his brother, says he appreciates being able to focus on day-to-day tasks. &ldquo;You do not have to go test 20 different burgers to see which one you want to sell,&rdquo; Haj said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve already done that. They&rsquo;ve tested out all the different mayos for you.&rdquo;</p><p>Successful franchising depends on a good brand &mdash; which means, above all, consistency. At all 16 locations of Al&rsquo;s Beef, the sandwiches not only taste the same, they drip the same, thanks to a uniform recipe for their <em>jus</em>.</p><p>What protects the brand is the franchise agreement, which spells out franchisee rules on topics such as operating hours, dress codes, supply vendors and payroll processes.</p><p>Despite paying all the fees and following the rules, a franchisee has no guarantee the unit will flourish. Franchises go belly up about as often as independent businesses in their industry, according to the<a href="http://www.sba.gov/"> U.S. Small Business Administration</a>.</p><p>Many franchisees do hang on &mdash; some for decades, like Syed, the 7-Eleven operator. A third of franchisees run multiple units, usually two or three, according to Franchise Business Review.</p><p>&ldquo;We see that this is successful &mdash; businesses being franchised &mdash; simply by the fact that they exist all around us,&rdquo; said <a href="http://www.bus.umich.edu/FacultyBios/FacultyBio.asp?id=000119727">Francine LaFontaine</a>, a University of Michigan professor of business economics and public policy. &ldquo;And then consumers are voting with their feet by consuming the goods and services that are offered this way. That means we&rsquo;ve made that sector more efficient.&rdquo;</p><p>That efficiency can lower prices, said LaFontaine, a&nbsp;<a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Economics_of_Franchising.html?id=HaZuDYzXLSYC">leading researcher</a>&nbsp;on franchise economics. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s good for consumers. It probably also means we consume a bit more of these things, which means there are more jobs in this sector than there would be otherwise.&rdquo;</p><p>But the model is fraught with tensions. When a franchise agreement expires, companies sometimes take the opportunity to increase the royalty or impose tighter rules. If the franchisee does not follow the rules, the company might take over that unit. Last summer, 7-Eleven ousted franchisees from several Chicago stores for alleged franchise-agreement violations.</p><p>The company, for its part, has reasons to establish rules &mdash; and enforce them. Making all franchises buy from the same supplier can help bring down costs. Higher fees can fund more advertising. Quality standards help keep franchisees from freeloading on the brand.</p><p>Other tensions stem from the wages and work conditions of franchise employees &mdash; the workers who flip the burgers or ring up the Slurpees.</p><p>Last June, federal <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nye/pr/2013/2013jun17.html">authorities seized</a> fourteen 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia and arrested the franchisees for allegedly employing illegal immigrants, forcing them to work long overtime hours, paying them for just a fraction of their work and forcing them to live in substandard housing owned by the franchisees. After the arrests, the corporation said it planned to step up its franchisee monitoring.</p><p>This March, McDonald&rsquo;s workers in California, Michigan and New York <a href="https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BwU-XxSsYz21eXluRzFpVFFzMFE&amp;usp=sharing">filed lawsuits</a> claiming that the Oak Brook-based corporation is responsible for alleged wage-and-hour violations, even at franchises. A company statement about the suits said McDonald&rsquo;s was committed &ldquo;to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald&rsquo;s restaurants&rdquo; and that it would investigate the allegations and &ldquo;take any necessary actions.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/book cover.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 296px; width: 200px;" title="A Boston University economist likens franchising to outsourcing." />Economists disagree about what causes such work conditions. Some cite the low-skilled jobs in many heavily franchised industries. They point to cutthroat competition. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s more the industry that determines the working conditions of the employees than it is the way in which this is organized,&rdquo; said LaFontaine, the University of Michigan economist, defending the franchise model.</p><p>Other experts tie the low wages to the franchising. When a company franchises, they point out, it is adding extra owners and a new layer of competition. That means more people taking slices of the pie and more pressure to cut costs such as wages. &ldquo;Each different business is operating on a thinner margin,&rdquo; said David Weil, the Labor Department nominee, who is a business professor at Boston University.</p><p>Weil co-authored a study that found that fast-food restaurants operated by a franchisee are more likely to violate wage-and-hour laws than eateries the big corporation runs itself.</p><p>When workers earn less, a related argument goes, they also consume less &mdash; a drag on the economy.</p><p>In a <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725447">new book</a>, Weil acknowledges the benefits of franchising for businesses that want to expand, but he also likens the model to&nbsp;various forms of outsourcing. He says they are all ways for big companies to shed employment responsibilities.</p><p><strong>The Slurpee Economy</strong></p><p>Syed says he bought his 7-Eleven franchise in 1990. &ldquo;I was very excited,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I could buy everything from where I wanted to.&rdquo;</p><p>After a while, however, Syed decided that being a franchisee was not all it was cracked up to be. It was not just the long hours. The company allowed another 7-Eleven to open just a few blocks away. Then it changed the terms of his franchise agreement.</p><p>Franchisees learned they had to buy 85 percent of supplies from approved vendors. &ldquo;Now everything will be controlled by 7-Eleven Company,&rdquo; Syed said. &ldquo;They will decide what to buy, where to buy.&rdquo;</p><p>Other franchisees complain that 7-Eleven goes as far as to remotely control the temperature in their stores, even the volume on their televisions.</p><p>Many of 7-Eleven&rsquo;s rules do help protect the brand. And the company has reasons to make franchisees purchase supplies from an approved vendor. For one, 7-Eleven can use the collective buying power to keep costs down, a company official said.</p><p>Something 7-Eleven does not control are employment decisions, including the amount Syed pays his workers. Syed said one of his half-dozen employees, the manager, makes $10.50 an hour. He said the rest earn less &mdash; in a state where the minimum is $8.25.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/banner-edited.jpg" title="Syed, the 7-Eleven franchisee in Chicago, calls himself a 'front man' for the Dallas-based corporation. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" /></div><p>Syed said he can hardly blame employees who are upset about the pay, but he insisted he is not getting rich either. Last year, his 23rd at the store, Syed took home $53,866, he said. That was one of his best years, he added.</p><p>To Syed, the whole franchise model feels like a setup. &ldquo;We are as much of a victim in it as the workers are,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We are nothing more than a glorified manager.&rdquo;</p><p>7-Eleven officials declined to get specific regarding the company&rsquo;s agreements with its approximately 6,200 franchises. But Jay Mitchell, a franchise-sales manager at the Dallas headquarters, said 7-Eleven was not going to take responsibility for wages or work conditions.</p><p>Franchisees are &ldquo;going to be independent operators so they are going to be responsible for employing people and determining what they pay those people as well,&rdquo; Mitchell said. &ldquo;While we will provide them guidance, it is completely up to [the franchisees] how they pay their employees.&rdquo;</p><p>Questioned about such employment policies, 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said the company provides franchisees &ldquo;very comprehensive&rdquo; training and said the franchise agreement requires them to follow the law.</p><p>But Syed said the rest of the agreement makes it too hard for him to cut costs, leaving him little room to pay his employees more. &ldquo;That worker also thinks &mdash; and I know it for a fact &mdash; that I am just greedy and I want to keep all the money in my pocket instead of giving him fair wages,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It might have been harder for Syed to run a convenience store without the 7-Eleven brand, said LaFontaine, the economist. &ldquo;Independent businesses or franchises fail all the time. That is just a reality of these kinds of small businesses.&rdquo;</p><p>Syed, who publishes a <a href="http://7-elevenfoac.com/data/newsletter/Final_FOAC_December_2012_Newsletter.pdf">newsletter</a> for Chicago-area 7-Eleven owners,&nbsp;says state and federal lawmakers should do more to protect franchises from the companies that own their brand.</p><p>To date, just 17 states have any laws governing franchisor-franchisee relations, according to Dean Heyl, who directs state government affairs for the <a href="http://www.franchise.org/">International Franchise Association</a>.</p><p>Those states include Illinois, which enacted its&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=2381&amp;ChapterID=67">Franchise Disclosure Act</a>&nbsp;in 1987. That law regulates how franchisors treat prospective franchisees and requires franchisors to have &ldquo;good cause&rdquo; for terminating a franchise.</p><p>Last week, Maine&rsquo;s state Senate voted down a bill that would have, among other things, required franchisors to provide a franchisee a 60-day notice to resolve a problem before termination. The bill also would have allowed franchisees to leave their business to a spouse, partner or heir.</p><p>Heyl said such legislation, if enacted, would &ldquo;hurt franchisees who are playing by the rules.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Franchising</strong>&rsquo;<strong>s New Frontier</strong></p><p>As franchising has spread, some industries have pushed the model to the extreme. In commercial-cleaning franchising, the customers that need the service usually come through the franchisor. They also make their payments to the franchisor. The franchisee gets just a portion of the payments in periodic checks from the franchisor &mdash; after deductions for insurance, royalties, management and so on.</p><p>In Chicago, the commercial-cleaning franchisees include hundreds of Mexican immigrants. One of them is a woman we will call Gloria Pérez. We agreed not to use her real name because she fears retribution from her franchisor. Pérez entered the commercial-cleaning business four years ago.</p><p>Back then, she and her husband were both unemployed, they had three kids at home and a mortgage, and they were burning through their savings. Pérez saw a newspaper ad placed by CleanNet of Illinois, part of<a href="http://www.cleannetusa.com/"> CleanNet USA</a>, based in McLean, Virginia.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchise%203_sh%20%28CM%20credit%29.JPG" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 233px; width: 350px;" title="A CleanNet janitor works after hours in a Chicago-area car dealership. Treated like a franchisee, she says her pay amounts to less than Illinois’s minimum wage. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />The ad said she could have her &ldquo;own business.&rdquo; Pérez, interviewed by WBEZ in Spanish, said it seemed like &ldquo;a good opportunity because we did not have any other work.&rdquo;</p><p>Pérez went in for an appointment. CleanNet gave her more than 150 pages of legal disclosures &mdash; all in English, she said. She did not understand much except some numbers on a chart the company gave her. &ldquo;It said I could make $6,000 a month if I bought a franchise for $21,000,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>After a discount, Pérez said, she managed to put in $19,000. Since then, she said, she has never come close to earning the monthly $6,000. &ldquo;Every month they take out 20 percent of what I earn&rdquo; and CleanNet does not give her enough customers within range of her home, Pérez said.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a scam,&rdquo; said Chicago attorney Christopher Williams, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in March on behalf of janitors such as Pérez. &ldquo;CleanNet is trying to say, &lsquo;We have no unemployment obligation to them. We have no workers-comp obligations to them. We do not pay payroll taxes. We are not their employer. And these are people who need public assistance because they&rsquo;re making so little money. They can&rsquo;t afford health care. If they get injured on the job, they have no workers compensation insurance.&rdquo;</p><p>If a customer falls behind on its payments, CleanNet warns it could deduct that money from paychecks too.</p><p>Another way CleanNet makes money off its janitors is by loaning them money when they cannot afford the franchise fee &mdash; the upfront payment from the workers. Paying off that loan means yet more paycheck deductions.</p><p>&ldquo;All they&rsquo;re left with after that agreement is debt,&rdquo; Williams said.</p><p>The suit against CleanNet, filed in federal court, claims hundreds of the company&rsquo;s Illinois janitors are not franchisees but employees. It accuses the company of violating state and federal laws regulating wages and work hours.</p><p>CleanNet officials did not respond to our requests for comment about the suit. When janitors in Massachusetts filed a similar claim against the company, CleanNet denied any liability or wrongdoing. It did settle with those janitors last November, agreeing to pay out $7.5 million.</p><p>In Illinois, CleanNet is among at least eight commercial-cleaning firms registered to offer franchises, according to the state attorney general&rsquo;s office. The biggest is Jani-King International, based in Addison, Texas.</p><p>Jani-King says it pioneered franchising in the commercial cleaning industry. Asked whether ducking wage-and-hour laws was a big factor in deciding to sell franchises to janitors instead of employing them, the company emailed a statement that did not directly answer the question.</p><p>&ldquo;Franchise owners, like all business owners, have control over their day-to-day operations as well as their profitability,&rdquo; the Jani-King statement said. &ldquo;They can solicit and bid their own business, and they can accept or decline the right to service accounts offered by Jani-King. They can hire employees to clean accounts, or they can clean themselves. They buy all of their own equipment and supplies. The franchise owners receive all revenue generated by their business (less Jani-King&rsquo;s fees).&rdquo;</p><p>But Weil, the Boston University business economist, said the franchise model enables the cleaning companies to shortchange the janitors. &ldquo;If you start doing the math, you realize that people are being paid way below the minimum wage or being denied overtime payment and are really being subjected to inappropriate expenses by another company for, essentially, being an employee of that company,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In the cleaning industry, it is not just the &ldquo;franchisees&rdquo; who are vulnerable to wage-and-hour violations. Those workers often bring other people to help them with jobs. Pérez gets part-time help from her husband, a son and a neighborhood friend. &ldquo;I can&rsquo;t afford to pay them minimum wage,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Court rulings in Massachusetts have upended franchising by janitorial companies. &ldquo;Several have closed down or stopped operating the way they were operating,&rdquo; said attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who filed the key suits. Now the companies are either treating their janitors like employees or &ldquo;not charging workers upfront for a job,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>&ldquo;My hope is that some of the rulings that we&rsquo;ve gotten [in Massachusetts] will spread,&rdquo; Liss-Riordan said.</p><p>That prospect worries Heyl, the <a href="http://www.franchise.org/">International Franchise Association</a> lobbyist. If lawsuits drive franchised cleaning companies out of business, there will be less competition and increased prices, he warned.</p><p>Heyl also sees a threat to franchising in all industries. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re just coming out of a recession, and banks are very skittish and, if they start looking at a franchise system and open up the [newspaper] and say, &lsquo;Look, some of these franchisees are employees,&rsquo; and there&rsquo;s litigation to follow, there&rsquo;s numerous negative economic impacts.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> at <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a>.&nbsp;Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/shannon-0">Shannon Heffernan</a> at <a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h">@shannon_h</a>.&nbsp;</em><em>This report, edited by <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/djohn">Derek John</a>, is part of WBEZ</em>&rsquo;<em>s&nbsp;</em>&ldquo;<em>Front and Center</em>&rdquo;<em>&nbsp;series, funded by the Joyce Foundation,&nbsp;</em>&ldquo;<em>Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.</em>&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 05:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bigger-burgers-and-fries-franchising-blamed-low-wages-109978 In tougher market, taxi drivers sue Chicago cab companies http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/taxis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago cab drivers today added to the frenzy of litigation that has recently besieged the for-hire transportation industry, filing a federal lawsuit against the city&rsquo;s four largest cab companies. They&rsquo;ve enlisted the help of a Boston labor attorney who has had success in arguing that taxi drivers are inappropriately classified as &ldquo;independent contractors,&rdquo; rather than &ldquo;employees&rdquo; of cab companies. The Chicago drivers seek class-action status, and significant back pay.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, I had a guy pull a gun on me the other day,&rdquo; recounted Karen Chamberlain, a longtime Chicago taxi driver and a plaintiff in the case, &ldquo;and I looked at him, I&rsquo;m going, &lsquo;you better shoot me, because I&rsquo;m not in the mood.&rsquo; And he got out.&rdquo;</p><p>Chamberlain laughs at the incident now, but says it&rsquo;s harder to find the comic relief these days in a job that&rsquo;s always had its share of ups and downs.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to work 4-5 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. Now, to make the same amount of money &ndash; and I&rsquo;m not even making as much &ndash; I&rsquo;m working 7 days a week,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I take three days off a year now. And I&rsquo;m not making the same amount of money. And I&rsquo;m working 10-12 hours a day.&rdquo;</p><p>Amid higher gas prices and a lingering recession, Chamberlain says business has been a struggle. Drivers have not seen an increase in taxi meter rates in eight years, and Chicago voters last week rejected a referendum on the primary ballot to raise fares. But Chamberlain says the city did the most harm when it allowed cab companies to raise lease rates on their vehicles two years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2006 I was paying $450 a week for my taxi. Right now I am paying $752 a week for my cab,&rdquo; Chamberlain said. She also blames newly popular&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-9da4-cf44-75a347e40a83">&ldquo;ride sharing&rdquo; companies</a>, such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar, for taking business away from taxis. The companies make smartphone apps that help regular people use their cars for hire.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m sitting there waiting for a fare and some guy with a pink mustache drives up and takes a fare,&rdquo; she said, referring to the fuzzy emblem that Lyft drivers mount on the front of their cars.</p><p>&ldquo;You see cab drivers out there,&rdquo; said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the Boston-based attorney who represents Chamberlain and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re working around the clock, long, long, long hours for very, very, very little pay. And this system of the drivers being classified as independent contractors really contributes (to the problem).&rdquo;</p><p>Liss-Riordan is fighting a similar case on behalf of Boston taxi drivers, and has had some initial success. Last year she got a judge to freeze the assets of Boston&rsquo;s largest taxi fleet owner. The case isn&rsquo;t over yet, but the court said there&rsquo;s a &ldquo;reasonable likelihood&rdquo; that cab drivers were misclassified.</p><p>She says labor laws in Illinois are similar to those in Massachusetts, which is why she believes her plaintiffs here will have a chance. In the Chicago lawsuit, Liss-Riordan expects the question to come down to whether the cab companies can prove that taxi drivers perform their service outside the companies&rsquo; usual place of business.</p><p>&ldquo;The case law in the driving context establishes that the place of business, if you&rsquo;re a driver, is out on the road,&rdquo; said Liss-Riordan. She does not believe that cab companies will be able to prove that cab drivers perform their work anywhere else. The cab companies named in the lawsuit were not prepared to speak with WBEZ on Wednesday.</p><p>The outcome of the lawsuit is likely many years off, but if the drivers prevail, it could have significant repercussions throughout Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry. For starters, cab companies would be required to pay back wages for thousands of cab drivers, dating back to ten years, if it&rsquo;s found that drivers earned less than the hourly minimum wage.</p><p>&ldquo;Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake,&rdquo; said attorney James Zouras, who is working with Liss-Riordan to represent the drivers. It would also mean that cab drivers would be entitled to overtime pay, among other benefits. Zouras said if a court rules that cab drivers are &ldquo;employees,&rdquo; it would also allow them to unionize.</p><p>Gregory McGee, another plaintiff in the case, has tried to organize Chicago cab drivers for nearly twelve years, with little success. He said a win in the courts could finally give many the confidence to unite. Still, he said he laments the extent to which conditions in the industry have already deteriorated.</p><p>&ldquo;I am now 54 years old, I have no savings, and I have had no days off for practical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;As a matter of fact, I probably have no more than 30 full calendar days off, where I did nothing cab-related, in the almost twelve years now.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit now becomes the second in federal court, where Chicago cab drivers assert that they&rsquo;ve been misclassified. The other,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/cabbie%E2%80%99s-lawsuit-against-chicago-moves-forward-104355" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-f8e7-9a90-ac65802c6419">brought by taxi driver Melissa Callahan</a>, seeks to show that cab drivers should properly be classified as employees of the City of Chicago. Liss-Riordan said she is not concerned about having these two suits progressing simultaneously.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s possible for employees to have multiple employers,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;So they&rsquo;re not mutually exclusive.&rdquo;</p><p>McGee said if anything, the two suits bolster taxi drivers&rsquo; argument that the industry needs to be restructured. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s how serious the situation is here, folks, that we have not just one class action (lawsuit) in the Northern District Federal Court here in the Seventh Circuit,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;we have two now, as of today.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0051-42cc-56fa-d64424314b8e">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 $15 minimum wage in Chicago? Industry groups have mixed reactions http://www.wbez.org/news/15-minimum-wage-chicago-industry-groups-have-mixed-reactions-109611 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Lucha%20por%2015b.JPG" style="width: 620px;" title="Activists rally Thursday in downtown Chicago for the proposal, which would cover companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />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.<br /><br />The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is sounding an alarm. &ldquo;This question really puts jobs in jeopardy,&rdquo; said Tanya Triche, the association&rsquo;s general counsel. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the opposite direction that employers and employees want to go in the city.&rdquo;<br /><br />But the Illinois Restaurant Association did not criticize the proposal, which will appear as a nonbinding referendum March 18 in parts of the city.</p><p>&ldquo;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,&rdquo; Sam Toia, the restaurant association&rsquo;s president and CEO, said in a written statement. &ldquo;We look forward to continued conversations with all stakeholders on the minimum-wage increase and its impact on businesses of all sizes.&rdquo;<br /><br />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&rsquo;s, not just the giant corporations themselves, according to Amisha Patel, a spokeswoman of the coalition.<br /><br />The referendum will take place in 103 of the city&rsquo;s 2,069 precincts &mdash; about 5 percent.<br /><br />On Thursday, 10 Chicago aldermen participated in a news conference to drum up support for the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;You should not have to go to work and come home and still find yourself in poverty after putting in a hard day&rsquo;s work,&rdquo; Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said. &ldquo;So I&rsquo;ll be encouraging all residents in my ward where this [question is on the ballot] to vote yes for the increase.&rdquo;<br /><br />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).</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office did not answer whether he supported the proposal but said he backed calls for hikes at the state and federal levels. &ldquo;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,&rdquo; spokeswoman Catherine Turco said in a written statement.<br /><br />Quinn on Wednesday called for a state minimum wage of at least $10 an hour. The Illinois minimum has been $8.25 since 2010.<br /><br />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.<br /><br />In 2006, a planned Chicago minimum wage for big-box retailers led to Mayor Richard M. Daley&rsquo;s first veto.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a>&nbsp;is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 30 Jan 2014 19:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/15-minimum-wage-chicago-industry-groups-have-mixed-reactions-109611 Morning Shift: The life and legend of Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-01-30/morning-shift-life-and-legend-mavis-staples-and <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Mavis Flickr debra_amerson.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Sound Opinions co-host and Chicago Tribune music critic Greg Kot swings by for Music Thursday to talk about the life and music of Chicago legend Mavis Staples. Kot is author of I&#39;ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom&#39;s Highway which is out now.</p><div class="storify"><iframe allowtransparency="true" frameborder="no" height="750" src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-life-and-legend-of-mavis-staples/embed?header=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-life-and-legend-of-mavis-staples.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-the-life-and-legend-of-mavis-staples" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: The life and legend of Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers" on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Thu, 30 Jan 2014 08:27:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift-tony-sarabia/2014-01-30/morning-shift-life-and-legend-mavis-staples-and Minimum wage hike to test 2014 governor candidates http://www.wbez.org/news/minimum-wage-hike-test-2014-governor-candidates-109509 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP275293127269.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The long-percolating issue of Illinois&#39; minimum wage rate could take center stage throughout the 2014 election campaign as Gov. Pat Quinn pushes to raise it by year&#39;s end while his Republican challengers fine-tune arguments that it could backfire on workers who want to keep their jobs.</p><p>Quinn wants Illinois to hike its minimum wage from $8.25 per hour to at least $10, an effort that coincides with a national Democratic strategy to make the economy and income differences a prominent theme in this year&#39;s elections.</p><p>On the other side, a coalition of business groups is ready to oppose those efforts, saying a wage hike pushes employers to cut jobs. One Quinn challenger, Winnetka businessman Bruce Rauner, already has been criticized for reversing his position on the issue, while all four Republican gubernatorial candidates are set to attend a Feb. 4 Illinois Manufacturers&#39; Association forum, where organizers say the minimum wage will be a main topic.</p><p>Roughly 1.1 million people in Illinois make the state minimum wage, meaning a full-time minimum wage worker makes roughly $17,000 annually. Illinois last raised its minimum wage in 2010 through a four-step increase, and the state&#39;s rate is the highest among Midwestern states, $1 more than in neighboring Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin.</p><p>Experts say the issue will be a tough one for GOP candidates, especially leading up to the March 18 primary. The idea of raising the rate is something the party typically opposes as bad for business, but it&#39;s popular with voters.</p><p>&quot;Republican candidates ... have to finesse this issue in the primary where they don&#39;t alienate primary voters and, at the same time ... leave themselves to appeal to the (general) electorate,&quot; said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.</p><p>The candidates detailed their views on the issue in an Associated Press campaign questionnaire. State Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford all say they are against an increase. Rauner said he&#39;d support an increase if the national rate of $7.25 per hour is raised or Illinois makes other business reforms first &mdash; a shift from previous statements in which he&#39;d advocated cutting the state&#39;s rate to the national minimum wage and said he was &quot;adamantly&quot; against raising it.</p><p>His reversal made headlines last week, but it&#39;s not the first time an Illinois candidate has struggled with the issue.</p><p>In 2010, when Brady was the Republican nominee against Quinn, he said he wanted to equal or adopt the federal minimum wage &mdash; which was interpreted to imply he wanted to cut Illinois&#39; rate. His staff quickly said that was untrue, but Quinn would often accuse Brady of wanting to cut the rate while on the campaign trail.</p><p>Brady wrote in the 2014 AP questionnaire that he wants a moratorium on increases until the federal rate catches up. He called raising the rate &quot;counterproductive.&quot;</p><p>&quot;Business considers many factors when deciding to expand or add staff, and the cost of labor is certainly one of those prime considerations,&quot; he wrote.</p><p>Dillard in 2006 voted for raising the state&#39;s minimum wage but now says he&#39;s against it, noting Illinois&#39; rate is among the highest in the country.</p><p>&quot;Last decade, economic times were better and Illinois hadn&#39;t raised its minimum wage up to the fourth highest in the country,&quot; he told The Associated Press Sunday.</p><p>&quot;I believe the upper echelons of the minimum wage and the different cost-of-living adjustments need to be set by the marketplace.&quot;</p><p>Dillard said increasing the rate is risky considering Illinois&#39; high unemployment and fiscal problems. &quot;Small businesses will be impacted the most and these are the very businesses that employ the bulk of Illinois residents,&quot; he wrote in his questionnaire.</p><p>Rutherford doesn&#39;t want any increases. &quot;I believe every American should be able to make as much money as possible, legally and ethically. State government should not put an artificial cost of doing business increase on a business, church or local unit of government,&quot; he wrote in his questionnaire.</p><p>Echoing the revised stance he laid out in media interviews last week, Rauner told the AP that he&#39;d favor an increase if the state adopts &quot;creative solutions to avoid further damage to our state&#39;s already shattered business climate,&quot; like incentives for small businesses.</p><p>Democrats, who maintain supermajorities in both chambers of the Illinois Legislature, could try to push the issue through this year on their own.</p><p>Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has characterized the differences over the minimum wage as part of a &quot;clash of values&quot; with the other candidates.</p><p>&quot;The question is, people are making $8.25 an hour in Illinois. That&#39;s not enough in my book,&quot; he told The Associated Press in a year-end interview in December. &quot;To have a Republican candidate running around saying it&#39;s too much for tough jobs, I think they really ought to examine their conscience.&quot;</p><p>His Democratic primary challenger, Tio Hardiman, the former head of an anti-violence group in Chicago, told the AP he&#39;d like to see the hourly rate as high as $12 an hour but only if the state would simultaneously reduce or eliminate a tax on corporations.</p><p>Studies on the impact of raising the minimum wage have been mixed.</p><p>Traditionally, economists say significantly raising it can lead to job loss as companies struggling to make payroll respond by cutting workers or hours. However, smaller increases, especially when times are good, typically have little effect.</p><p>Geography also is a factor. Raising the rate in the Chicago area, where both wages and the demand for workers are greater, won&#39;t be felt as much as in downstate Illinois, according to Fred Giertz, an economist at the University of Illinois&#39; Institute of Government and Public Affairs.</p><p>Business groups don&#39;t see any upside. The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, which represents 20,000 Illinois businesses and is part of a coalition fighting any proposed increase, says raising the rate would kill jobs.</p><p>But unions aren&#39;t persuaded.</p><p>&quot;People desperately need to have their wages raised,&quot; said Roberta Lynch, the deputy director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31. &quot;We think the Illinois economy will improve if more people have more money to spend.&quot;</p></p> Mon, 13 Jan 2014 13:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/minimum-wage-hike-test-2014-governor-candidates-109509 Illinois Senate Democrats push minimum wage hike http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-democrats-push-minimum-wage-hike-109494 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP620579142727.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><p">Some Democratic state senators are pushing a new increase in the state&rsquo;s minimum wage&mdash;and they like their odds of passing a bill this year.</p"></p><p>Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has made a minimum wage hike a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, favoring a boost to $10 an hour from the current rate of $8.25 an hour.</p><p>The topic also has been at the center of a heated debate among the GOP candidates running for governor that has included businessman Bruce Rauner&rsquo;s since-retracted statement that Illinois should lower its minimum wage.</p><p>State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, has been pushing for years to raise the minimum wage. Her past few attempts did not get much traction in Springfield, and her bill last year calling for an increase to $10 an hour did not even get a vote.</p><p>In 2012, Lightford&rsquo;s bill was approved by a Senate committee, but was not called up for a vote in the full Senate. But Lightford hopes the current minimum wage discussion in the governor&rsquo;s race will help the bill pass in Springfield.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m hoping that now that there&rsquo;s much discussion about it, we&rsquo;re at a point where some members who were perhaps &lsquo;maybes,&rsquo; they weren&rsquo;t quite sure, maybe we can get them to become &lsquo;yes&rsquo; votes now,&rdquo; Lightford said Thursday.</p><p>The last two times Illinois raised its minimum wage were in or around election years.</p><p>Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a law increasing Illinois&rsquo; minimum wage in 2003, shortly after he was elected governor, and again in 2006, <a href="http://ilga.gov/legislation/billstatus.asp?DocNum=1268&amp;GAID=8&amp;GA=94&amp;DocTypeID=SB&amp;LegID=18336&amp;SessionID=50" target="_blank">just after he was re-elected</a>.</p><p>Whether the minimum wage should be raised, lowered or even with the national rate has been attracting dramatic attention from the Republicans seeking their party&rsquo;s nomination for governor in the March 18 primary. Those candidates include Rauner, a wealthy Chicago venture capitalist; State Senators Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, and Kirk Dillard, R-Westmont; and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.</p><p>Rauner&rsquo;s comments have caused a recent stir by saying last month that he advocates moving the Illinois minimum wage back to the national rate.That would mean reducing Illinois&rsquo; current rate of $8.25 an hour to the national rate of $7.25.</p><p>Rauner has since taken back those comments, and in a <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-minimum-wage-bruce-rauner-perspec-0109-20140109,0,6500044.story" target="_blank">written column published in the Chicago Tribune</a>, said he favors the federal government raising the national minimum wage so it is even with Illinois&rsquo; rate.</p><p>That is similar to the position taken by Brady, who released a statement Wednesday saying he does not want Illinois to raise its minimum wage until the national rate matched $8.25.</p><p>During his 2010 bid for governor, Brady got caught up in a controversy similar to Rauner&rsquo;s. <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-06-25/news/ct-met-illinois-governor-race-minimum20100625_1_minimum-wage-governor-candidate-bill-brady-illinois" target="_blank">The <em>Chicago Tribune</em> reported</a> Brady initially suggested that the Illinois rate should be rolled back to the federal level, then later said the rate should be frozen until the federal rate catches up. Brady won the Republican nomination that year but narrowly lost to Quinn in the general election.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/tonyjarnold">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 10 Jan 2014 10:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-senate-democrats-push-minimum-wage-hike-109494