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Chicago Joins Seattle in Push For $15 Minimum Wage

minimum wageLast week a coalition of Chicago aldermen put forth an ordinance proposing a $15 an hour minimum wage for workers in the nation’s third-largest city.

According to details in the ordinance, corporations with more than $50 million in annual sales would be required to increase minimum worker pay to at least $15 an hour within one year of the law’s approval. Smaller businesses would be given five years to meet the wage adjustments. 21 out of 50 council members have now signed on to endorse the bill, according to Crain’s Chicago Business report.

Chicago’s current minimum wage stands at $8.25 an hour, one dollar more than the official federal minimum wage.

Many of the Chicago aldermen teamed up with low-wage workers at a City Hall press conference on Wednesday, just before the session where the ordinance was submitted. Darlene Pruitt, a 55-year-old home care worker, mother of three and grandmother of 22, explained what it’s like to earn $10.65 an hour after five annual raises of ten cents each. Such tiny increments are not enough, the West Side resident told reporters.

Pruitt has sometimes been forced to use a food bank to provide enough groceries for her family. “It’s hard out there,” she said. “The cost to live in Chicago and meet your basic needs — rent, utilities, food, medication, clothes — is high.”

Although Pruitt knows she may face workplace retaliation from her employer from speaking out, she has stepped forward in hopes that her efforts will help other workers in a similar circumstances. If her paycheck were bigger, that spending money would go right back into her community, she said.

The Center for Popular Democracy, in partnership with Raise Chicago, an advocacy group pushing for the higher wage, released a study Wednesday claiming that higher wages would decrease worker turnover and stimulate the local economy.

The study suggests that a higher minimum would stimulate up to $616 million in new economic activity while creating 5,350 new jobs just in the initial phase. Higher pay is also projected to boost sales tax revenues by $45 million, although it would raise consumer prices about by 2%, according to the study.

Voters came out in overwhelming support of the $15 minimum wage in a non-binding ballot question during the March 2014 primary election. Yet businesses have yet to climb on board. Doug Whitley of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce stated that the new ordinance is “a ridiculously excessive reach on the part of a local government to try to instruct private-sector employers how to manage their businesses.” The Chamber also maintains that Chicago employers “cannot afford another minimum-wage increase,” no matter how small the amount.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel also backed calls for a higher minimum wage, although he had supported an amount somewhat lower than $15 an hour. Last week he touted the development of a minimum wage “working group” tasked with creating a plan for raising Chicago worker wages; he had also previously announced support for President Obama’s campaign for a $10.10 federal minimum wage.

The minimum wage debate remains a hot topic in Employment Law and Worker’s Rights news, particularly in Seattle, which recently passed legislation enacting the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 per hour. For more information on wage and hour disputes, compensation for workplace injuries, third party claims and other employment law matters, contact the experienced Employment Attorneys at Emery Reddy for a free consultation.

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