Alderman Leslie Hairston still calling for $15 minimum wage

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Will Burns (4th) both voted last Tuesday to raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13, but Hairston said it’s not enough.

Tuesday’s 44-5 vote ensured Chicago’s $8.25 minimum wage will rise to $10 by July 2015 and 50 cents every year through 2019, when it reaches $13 an hour.

“The ordinance to raise the minimum wage will fairly compensate work in a responsible way,” Will Burns said in a prepared statement that day. Earlier this year, Burns – who once voiced support for a $15 wage – co-chaired Mayor Emanuel’s Minimum Wage Working Group, which studied the issue and published a report recommending a $13 minimum wage last July.

Burns’ Tuesday statement acknowledged that teenagers and disabled workers were exempt from the wage hike, but stressed that Tuesday’s vote would boost consumer spending and expand the middle class.

“Money that finds its way to the top has a tendency to stay there,” Burns said. “It’s not used for groceries, for gas or for other basic amenities that hourly workers currently struggle to buy.”

But Hairston called Tuesday’s wage hike “a great first step,” and said she would continue to push for a $15 minimum wage. The five-year time frame for raising Chicago’s won’t necessarily keep pace with inflation but is the result of compromise, according to Hairston.

“I don’t know whether it is sufficient, because I don’t know what the rates of inflation are going to be. But what I can say is this is the give-and-take of negotiations,” Hairston said, which lets businesses adjust “instead of forcing it on them all at one time.”

In light of the ordinance’s exemptions – disabled workers will continue to be paid less than the minimum wage and tipped workers only received a $1 an hour raise to $5.95 – Hairston called for “universal equality.”

“The cost of living in Chicago is a lot higher than in other places, particularly throughout the state,” Hairston said.

Although Hairston shares mayoral challenger Ald. Bob Fioretti’s (2nd) position that Chicago should have a $15 minimum wage, Hairston rejected the notion that her stance has anything to do with the upcoming mayoral race.

“I have a vote on the council floor, to represent the residents of the 5th Ward, and my vote represents what my constituents want, and it has nothing to do with any candidate for mayor,” Hairston said.