Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered city contractors to pay a minimum wage of at least $13 an hour, up from the current $8.25.
While Emanuel’s executive order is expected to affect only 1,000 workers, the symbolism adds momentum to a proposed ordinance that would raise the minimum to that level by 2018 for the estimated 400,000 people who work in the nation’s third-most-populous city.
The move comes as President Barack Obama renewed his call Sept. 1 for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25 and after cities from Seattle to New York have begun acting on their own. A coalition of labor activists plans a national day of civil disobedience tomorrow at fast-food restaurants to press the case for a $15 minimum.
“This is a down payment on the goal for all 400,000 people,” Emanuel told reporters after the signing. “For the around 1,000, that will be impactful. They’ll start seeing it in their paycheck immediately. That’s a good thing for the city of Chicago. It’s good thing for our economy.”
Emanuel, acting on a recommendation from a task force, asked the city council July 30 to raise the wage to $9.50 next year and gradually increase it until it reaches $13 in 2018.
A council vote, however, may be delayed until after Illinois voters decide in November the fate of an advisory referendum to raise the statewide rate to $10 per hour.
Aldermen are split on whether Emanuel’s proposal is too high or too low.
Voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding resolution in March that called for a minimum $15 pay level and a bill was introduced on city council to do that.
The proposals are part of a nationwide effort to help low-wage workers.
A worker earning the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, 40 hours a week, would earn an estimated $15,080 a year. That compares with the federal poverty level of $23,850 a year for a family of four and $11,670 for an individual, according to 2014 guidelines.
“A higher minimum wage is essential to putting a financial floor beneath our hard-working families,” Emanuel said in a statement. “With this executive action, we’ll help ensure that nobody who is contracted to do work with the city of Chicago will ever have to raise their children in poverty.”
In June, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed a bill that will make the city’s minimum wage $15 an hour by 2017, and Mayor Ed Lee proposed $15 in San Francisco by 2018. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Sept. 1 he will push the city council to raise the wage to $13.25 by 2017.
Emanuel’s order affects all city service contracts, including construction, advertised after Oct. 1, and will rise with inflation, according to today’s statement from his office.
A 2012 city ordinance mandated that certain city workers earn a base wage of $11.53 an hour, adjusted for federal poverty guidelines. Today’s order not only increases wages, it expands the areas of workers that are covered by the minimum, said Jamie Rhee, Chicago’s chief procurement officer.
The earlier ordinance applied to custodians, security officers and health-care home workers, while Emanuel’s order today applies to anyone working on a city contract, including workers at O’Hare International Airport, according to Rhee.