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Aldermen Poised To Boost Chicago Minimum Wage To $13-An-Hour

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Aldermen have set the stage to hike the city's minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next four-and-a-half years, under a measure the City Council is expected to approve Tuesday.

Facing re-election in February, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made raising the city's minimum wage on the fast track.

"None of us who are entrusted with public life can rest until we make sure that everybody, regardless of where they live, has a chance to participate in that economic growth throughout the city of Chicago," he said.

The mayor's revised minimum wage ordinance would raise the hourly minimum wage in Chicago each year in July, starting with an increase to $10 next year. It would then go up to $10.50 in 2016, $11 in 2017, $12 in 2018, and $13 in 2019.

After 2019, the city's minimum wage would go up each year at a rate equal to the rise in the Consumer Price Index.


The council's Workforce Development Committee endorsed the mayor's plan at a three-hour meeting Monday afternoon, sending the measure to the full City Council for a vote at a special meeting on Tuesday.

Before the committee vote Monday, many aldermen raised concerns about how high the minimum wage should go, what is too high for small businesses, and at what point they can still survive and thrive.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather Restaurants, said bringing the city's minimum wage up, while the rest of Illinois stays at $8.25 per hour, would hurt Chicago businesses and kill jobs.

"I anticipate this even getting more quicker the pace of eliminating servers; number two, eliminating dishwashers and busboys, and going to disposables. These are what's happening in the real world," he said.

Retailers and other small business owners said they fear their businesses will fail, or they'll have to raise prices or lay off workers to keep their businesses running with a higher minimum wage.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia claimed a $13-an-hour minimum wage would eliminate 11,600 jobs in Chicago, and would also make it harder for Chicago residents to get remaining minimum wage jobs.

"This ordinance will hit Chicago workers with a double whammy. Fewer jobs will be available, and there will be more competitions for those jobs from suburban residents," he said. "We should definitely have an increase to the minimum wage. We just don't think it should be piecemeal from municipality to municipality."

Katelyn Johnson, executive director of Action Now, rejected suggestions that businesses along the city's outer limits would close, or move to the suburbs.

"The jobs that are there, the businesses that are there, are often landlocked by their neighborhood, and aren't going anywhere; and I think that a higher wage for everyone helps small businesses help to move the economy forward. I think all communities will benefit," she said.

Workers who backed the mayor's plan said it's too expensive to live in Chicago earning the current minimum wage. Some said the mayor's plan isn't good enough, noting it would only raise the minimum hourly wage for tipped workers – like bartenders and restaurant wait staff – from $4.95 to $5.95.

"We have relied on tips, because we get paid a low sub-minimum wage. Women and people of color will lose out. Tipped workers want one fair wage," said restaurant worker Nataki Rhodes.

Johnson said activists would accept the mayor's plan for now, but would continue to push for a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers, even those who rely on tips.

"We recognize that we wouldn't be able to even be having this conversation if it wasn't for our fight. Thirteen dollars is a good place to start, but it does leave out huge swaths of the population, as Nataki spoke; domestic workers, tipped workers," she said.

However, Katie Hamilton, director of small business for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said it was simply a bad idea to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $13 an hour, while surrounding communities keep a lower rate.

Although state lawmakers also are weighing a minimum wage hike for the entire state, the plan in the Illinois General Assembly would only raise the state's rate to $11 an hour by July 1, 2017.

"On its face, an increase in the minimum wage seems like the right thing to do for the city of Chicago, but a patchwork of minimum wage rates across Illinois will not improve our communities or economic outlook," Hamilton said.

When the mayor first took up the issue of raising the minimum wage in Chicago last year, he said he wanted to wait for state lawmakers to act on a statewide plan, but with Gov. Pat Quinn's loss in the November election, despite his vocal support for a higher minimum wage, passage of the state plan is not certain.

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