Community Leaders Condemn Efforts to Block Chicago From Raising Minimum Wage

Voters Protest Outside of Office of Illinois Restaurant Association

Chicago, Illinois –(ENEWSPF)—November 19, 2014. Today, community leaders in the Raise Chicago coalition held a press conference and protest outside of the offices of the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) in response to the news that IRA and other business lobbyists are pressuring state legislators in Springfield to preempt Chicago’s home rule for raising the minimum wage. Preemption of home rule would prevent Chicago from setting its own minimum wage separate from the state and effectively silence the voices of 86% of Chicagoans who voted to raise the Chicago minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Illinois voters expressed strong support for increasing the state minimum wage to $10, voting in favor of the minimum wage advisory referendum by a 2 to 1 margin. In Chicago, a March 2014 city referendum for a $15 minimum wage garnered 86.3% support from voters. Urged on by IRA and other lobbyists, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and others are considering including preemption of Chicago home rule in state minimum wage legislation, making it impossible for city legislators to carry out the will of voters to enact a higher city minimum wage.

“The Illinois General Assembly must take action on the issues that working families care about, instead of just paying them lip service to get re-elected. Holding the state minimum wage increase hostage until officials approve the elimination of home rule is not just wrong, it is undemocratic,” said Katelyn Johnson, Executive Director of Action Now, member of the Raise Chicago Coalition.

The Illinois state minimum wage is currently a floor, not a ceiling. It is necessary for expensive cities like Chicago to have the freedom to set their own minimum wage higher to keep residents out of poverty. According to the National Employment Law Project, housing costs are over 30% higher in Chicago than in downstate Illinois.

Across the country, high-cost cities in states such as Maryland, California, New Mexico and Washington State have been successfully using higher local minimum wages to address differing local living costs. According to USA Today, “Interviews with San Jose workers, businesses, and industry officials show it has improved the lives of affected employees while imposing minimal costs on employers.” (USA Today, June 14, 2014)

“It’s outrageous that elected officials, who are supposed to be representing the interests of working families, are moving to lock hundreds of thousands of Chicago working families into poverty wages,” Amisha Patel, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, said. “We insist that Chicago maintain its home rule status, so that we can decide for ourselves what our minimum wage should be.”

The push to ban higher local minimum wages is being driven by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which counts the National Restaurant Association among its members and has long pushed bills like the “Living Wage Preemption Act.” ALEC, funded by right-wing billionaire Koch brothers, see it as a strategy for blocking the gains that low-wage workers are making in cities like Chicago.  According to the Center on Media and Democracy, “a top agenda item at ALEC’s December meeting is aimed at thwarting [local] efforts to raise the wage.”

“Our elected officials and big business are, once again, trying to do another back room deal sabotaging the voices and the will of the people.” stated Nataki Rhodes, a tipped working and member of Restaurant Opportunities Center Chicago. “We need Cullerton and Madigan to stand with the people, not corporate lobbyists like the Illinois Restaurant Association.”

Since Republican Governor-elect Rauner is likely not to be supportive of raising Illinois’ minimum wage regularly, it is even more crucial that Illinois cities retain the option of enacting higher local minimum wages as a safety valve to provide other means for protecting low-wage workers over the next four years.