Push to Hike Minimum Wage for Tipped Workers in Chicago Begins

Video: The WTTW News Spotlight Politics team of Heather Cherone, Paris Schutz and Amanda Vinicky tackles the week’s biggest stories. (Produced by Paul Caine)

Nearly a dozen alderpeople — all allies of Mayor Brandon Johnson — launched a concerted effort Wednesday to require all Chicago businesses to pay their workers the same minimum hourly wage, regardless of whether they earn tips.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), the mayor’s floor leader, cast the One Fair Wage national campaign as part of a fight for justice, saying workers who earn the so-called tipped minimum wage are more vulnerable to sexual harassment, wage theft and abuse than other employees.

“This is a critical issue,” Ramirez-Rosa said, noting that the practice of allowing employers to pay their workers less than the minimum wage — as long as tips make up the rest — originated in slavery. 

Johnson’s mayoral campaign platform called for an end to the tipped minimum wage, noting that those who rely on tips to earn a living wage are more likely to be Black and Latina women. Johnson was endorsed by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois, which is part of the One Fair Wage campaign.

Chicago’s minimum wage for most workers will rise to $15.80 per hour on July 1, an increase of 40 cents. That comes two years after Chicago’s minimum wage hit $15 per hour after a six-year fight that energized the labor movement and fueled new laws designed to improve the working conditions for the city’s lowest-paid workers, who are disproportionately Black and Latino.

“This is way overdue,” Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th Ward) said. “It will ensure workers are treated with respect and dignity.”

In 2019, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot blocked a proposal backed by progressive members of the City Council to eliminate the tipped minimum wage by 2023. That proposal faced intense opposition from restaurant industry groups.

Representatives of the Illinois Restaurant Association did not respond to a request for comment from WTTW News about the renewed push to eliminate the tipped minimum wage.

Small businesses with four to 20 workers must pay their workers at least $15 an hour as of July 1, according to city ordinance.

Approximately 1.4 million Illinois residents earn the state’s minimum wage. The state’s minimum wage is $13 per hour, and will rise by $1 on Jan. 1, 2024, and finally hit $15 on Jan. 1, 2025.

The minimum hourly wage for employees of large Chicago businesses who earn tips will rise by 48 cents on July 1 to $9.48 per hour, officials said.

Paying all workers the same minimum wage, regardless of what they earn in tips, will benefit Chicago’s restaurant industry and individual eateries, Ramirez-Rosa said.

The push is also supported by Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward), the chair of the City Council’s Workforce Development Committee.

Johnson said Wednesday he was open to negotiations that would phase out the elimination of the tipped wage, but endorsed efforts to ensure “uniformity and some consistency in someone’s ability to be able to make the ends meet” and boost Chicago’s economy.

“If individuals are going to be able to afford to live in the city of Chicago, we’re gonna have to have wages that reflect the cost increase that is creeping up on all of us,” Johnson said. “I see any effort that we put forth as a government to secure the economics for working people certainly places us in a far better position to have a sustainable economy.”

Saru Jayaraman, the president of the One Fair Wage national campaign, said paying tipped workers the same minimum wage could help boost youth employment, a major goal of Johnson’s efforts to reduce crime and revitalize Chicago’s South and West sides.

“This is a win-win solution,” Jayaraman said, noting that many restaurants are still struggling to fill jobs after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restaurant industry is the largest employer of Chicagoans age 16 to 24, and Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th Ward) said raising their wages could reduce homelessness throughout the city.

A proposal to end the tipped minimum wage is likely to be a major point of negotiation during the debate over the 2024 spending plan, Johnson’s first, set to take place this fall.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors