Should Chicago Increase Its Minimum Wage to $15 by 2021?

Chicago’s minimum wage is again in the spotlight. At a City Council hearing on Tuesday, committee members discussed a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021.

The state is on track to reach a $15 minimum by 2025, but labor unions and community activists say that’s too long for Chicago’s low-wage workers to wait. The current minimum wage in Chicago was just bumped to $13 an hour on July 1 per an ordinance passed by the City Council nearly five years ago

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The “Raise Chicago” ordinance, introduced by 4th Ward Ald. Sophia King in June, would raise the hourly minimum wage to $14 on July 1, 2020, and $15 on July 1, 2021, beating the state’s schedule by nearly four years.

“The cost of living is continuing to rise because productivity has gone up but workers’ wages have remained stagnant,” said Erica Bland-Durosinmi, vice president of politics at SEIU Healthcare Illinois, a labor union. “The only way workers have seen increases is through legislative bodies taking action; if we have to wait on employers’ goodwill to do so, workers will continue to lose out.”

That union represents tens of thousands of home care, childcare and hospital workers in the region. Bland-Durosinmi said several minimum-wage workers in these fields have moved from the city to the suburbs, where the cost of living is lower.

But, says Bland-Durosinmi, “the reality is it’s only lower for a limited amount of time before it rises there too. So what we know is that workers need more money in their pockets just to be able to afford the basics.”

The proposal would include new workers under Chicago’s minimum wage requirements, including employees of the city’s sister agencies, such as the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Park District. Also included would be tipped employees, who currently earn a $6.40 per hour subminimum wage in Chicago; the ordinance would require employers such as restaurants to pay those workers the minimum wage in addition to tips earned.

Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said that change could devastate small business owners.

“If you bring that cost to employers by that much that fast, there’s no way small restaurants can survive, and this city is built on small businesses,” Triche Dawood said.

The retail industry would also face increasing pressure to stay afloat, Triche Dawood said.

“I think we need to take into account that if there are new businesses opening up, it’s less likely that they’re retail,” Triche Dawood said. “We should look at what these labor regulations do the ability to have sustainable retail in Chicago.”

Triche Dawood referenced data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released earlier this month, which showed general merchandise stores lost 80,000 jobs nationwide over the course of the year.

Triche Dawood and Bland-Durosinmi join “Chicago Tonight” in discussion.

Related stories:

Mayor, Labor Groups Push for $15 Minimum Wage by 2021

Illinois Minimum Wage to Rise to $15 by 2025

New Initiative Aims to Bring Solar Energy, Jobs to Chicago’s South Side

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