King’s minimum wage increase proposal awaits action from council committee

Ald. King (center) demonstrates for a $15-an-hour minimum wage with supporters in an undated photograph. (Contributed photo)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

Throughout the summer, Ald. Sophia King (4th) advocated for her “Raise Chicago” ordinance, which would increase the city’s minimum wage to $14 on July 1, 2020, and to $15 a year after that.

Introduced in June, it has dozens of co-sponsors and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s support.

But it remains uncertain when the ordinance will come before the Workforce Development Committee, which must clear it before a full City Council vote. Committee staff and King confirmed Thursday that a hearing had yet to be set, though King said they are moving forward.

King chalked up the delay to the Council’s August vacation and the change in mayoral administrations, which saw many committee chairmanships change hands.

“I think that the administration is not sitting back on this — there are just a number of things that they also have to take into consideration, and everyone is doing their due diligence as well,” King said, calling it one of Lightfoot’s many priorities.

Lightfoot endorsed raising the city’s minimum wage in her Aug. 29 State of the City address. Several labor unions also are advocating for it.

After the summer doldrums, policymaking in Chicago is heating up. Lightfoot’s budget address will be given Oct. 23, and King said the minimum wage increase would affect the city’s finances.

Not all city employees make $15 an hour, and neither do all workers at sister agencies like the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Public Schools. The increase would also affect the municipal budget because of rising payrolls at nonprofits and other entities with which the city contracts services.

“Those nonprofits that rely on [the city] for grants or income — an increase in the minimum wage would also impact their budget and, indirectly, ours,” King said. “Those are things that are taking some time to do due diligence on.”

King’s ordinance provides for no exemptions for certain kinds of workers. Tipped workers’ minimum wage is currently $6.40 in Chicago, but King referenced the practice’s “racist and sexist historical context” in the United States.

To wit, the Pullman Company’s wages forced turn-of-the-century Black porters to rely on tips to make a living. Tipped workers only got a national minimum wage in 1966, after the first federal minimum wage was passed in 1938, and a 2014 study by the liberal Economic Policy Institute think tank found that women and people of color working in restaurants have the highest poverty rates in the industry.

“While a small percentage of tipped workers actually make more from tips, the vast majority of tipped workers make less and sometimes aren’t tipped at all. They’re going home with sub-minimum wages, which are below $7 an hour,” King said. “This kind of seeks to equalize that payment and stop perpetuating sexual and racist harassment that has occurred over the years and bring everybody to a level playing field.”

The ordinance would phase out tipped wages completely, drawing concern, King said, from the Illinois Restaurant Association (which opposed the previous Chicago and Cook County minimum wage increase to $13), individual restaurants and some nonprofits.

Nevertheless, King said she does not feel the “full force” of opposition to the increase.

“I’m not saying that there won’t be more of that to come, but I do feel like there is strong support on the City Council as well as citywide,” she said. “There are some concerns, and those are things that I want to hear about, and I want to make sure that we look at carefully. But for the most part, it’s a good ordinance, and we should move forward.”

“When you pay people more, you get things like less turn-over, people who are able to make more of a living wage,” King said. “It brings more stability.”

The City Council’s first meeting next month is on Oct. 16, and King expects a vote on the ordinance then. No dates have been announced for the Workforce Development Committee’s September or October meetings.

Chicago’s minimum wage is currently $13 an hour. The minimum wage will increase to $15 across Illinois in 2025.

a.gettinger@hpherald.com