Chicago Approves $13 Minimum-Wage Plan Amid National Debate

Chicago’s City Council approved a 57 percent boost in the minimum wage, gradually raising it to $13 an hour by 2019.

The 44-to-5 vote today came at the urging of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who faces a re-election vote in February. Opponents, including those who said the increase wasn’t enough and those who warned it would put Chicago businesses at a disadvantage, were overcome by a strengthening national move to boost pay for minimum-wage workers, currently making $8.25 an hour throughout Illinois.

The minimum wage is “about making sure nobody who works raises a child in poverty,” Emanuel said after the vote. “You cannot have a thriving small business on a work force that is living on subsistence wages.”

With Congress ignoring President Barack Obama’s Sept. 1 call to raise the federal minimum to $10.10 from $7.25, states and cities have plunged ahead, mandating higher pay in Washington and Oregon, as well as Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland, California. Voters in Republican-leaning Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota endorsed increases in referendums last month. California’s minimum wage would increase to $13 a hour, the highest for a state, under legislation introduced yesterday.

Creating Disparity

The lopsided vote in Chicago belied the friction of a debate that has lasted months.

Alderman Tom Tunney told the council to consider the impact on businesses already under pressure. The state and federal government are the proper entities to ensure a level playing field, he said. Emanuel rapped a gavel during Tunney’s testimony to quiet the crowd in the back of the chamber.

“None of us dispute the fact that wages need to go up,” Tunney said. “We have got to protect small businesses.”

Alderman Bob Fioretti, a Democrat challenging Emanuel in the 2015 mayoral race, called the $13-an-hour ordinance a good beginning.

“It is a first step on the road to get workers the dignity they deserve,” he said. “In order to be truly a world-class city, we must continue the fight for $15.”

Almost two dozen City Council members had backed a $15 wage, which increased pressure on Emanuel to push for raising the minimum.

Today’s vote creates a disparity between the Illinois wage and that of the state’s largest city. The Democratic-controlled legislature is considering a bill that would raise the statewide $8.25 minimum to as high as $11 dollars.

Catalytic Action

“Raising the minimum wage in Chicago and across Illinois is the right thing to do for all hardworking families,” Democratic Governor Pat Quinn said in an e-mailed statement.

Democrats are pressing the issue over the objections of Republican Governor-elect Bruce Rauner, who has said he would support an increase only if tied to changes in business regulations.

“Raising the minimum wage doesn’t help somebody who’s unemployed,” Rauner told reporters at a Springfield news briefing. “And it doesn’t help somebody who is employed today and could get unemployed because of the lack of competitiveness that raising the minimum wage can engender.”

The minimum will initially increase to $10 an hour in July. Wages will then climb to $11 by 2017, and reach $13 by 2019, according to a statement from Emanuel’s office. The rate will adjust for inflation after 2019.

The city’s move may inspire lawmakers in Springfield, the capital, Emanuel told reporters after the vote.

“It’s time to act, and I do believe it will be the key that turns the ignition for the state to deal with this,” he said.

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