After months of political wrangling, rhetoric, and public demonstrations, the Chicago City Council voted 44-5 on Tuesday to increase the city’s minimum age to $13, through a phased in plan, with a jump from the current $8.25 to $10 an hour, beginning in 2015.
As the vote indicated, there was widespread support, but there were naysayers; among them Alderman Tom Tunney (44th) who, as a restaurant owner, voted against the measure, and who tried desperately to try a parliamentary maneuver to have the bill shelved, warning that ““Whatever the entry-level wage is, when there is no company, there is no job.”
Warming to the fight, he also cited the long and arduous hours that business owners put in to make their business succeed, when he said, “These are people that get up at 3 in the morning to make their businesses happen. You know how many hours they work? Ask `em. They work 60 or 70 hours a week.”
Politics, as well as business, is full of irony and Tunney’s remarks are echoed by supporters of the bill, who say that without the workers who also work long hours at minimum pay, there would be no business.
Tuesday’s vote also gives domestic workers a much needed leg-up on the pay scale, and according to the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, who in a statement said, “”This groundbreaking vote means that Chicago’s household workers will finally gain the same protections that most other workers have had for decades,” says Myrla Baldonado, a domestic worker and organizer at Latino Union of Chicago. “Domestic workers often go unrecognized, but the caring work that they do makes all other work possible.”
Behind the working hours of business owners like Tunney and Baldonado, was a multi pronged effort to use the bill for other purposes than the common good or even fairness.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, not considered a friend for the left, or even the left of center, politically, used his mantle of support to position himself, along with a huge campaign chest of money, as a friend of the working class, whose votes he alienated when he closed 50 schools in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, stating that they were under performing, and in need of reform, but in effect, were closed to save the city money, and resulted in overcrowded classrooms, and children crossing gang-infested streets to get to class.
With mayoral elections just around the corner in February, Emanuel needs to shift his image away from the hard-nosed, big city mayor, towards one of compassion for working people and their lives.
Raising the minimum wage was also a plank in the National Democratic Party’s attempt to turn voters away from Republicans, and their efforts to gain not simply a majority in the Senate, but also to turn blue states, like Illinois, red, which they have done with the election of Bruce Rauner, as Republican governor.
But, don’t expect Democrats to turn away form the issue, even if it did not quite work as a wedge issue, in the mid-term elections, then it certainly will resurface as a plan in 2016, when the Democrats will struggle to keep the White House away from Republican possession.
Opinions about whether or not the increase will help workers, or not, varies widely among economists, and as noted before, some like Joseph Persky, professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told Crain’s Chicago Business last year that after research on an increase in the fast-food industry, between 2003 and 2005, he surmised that, “the impact on jobs was “not statistically different from zero.”
And, others like Elizabeth Powers of the Urbana-Champaign campus feel that a better approach might be better served by “an expansion of the state’s EITC (earned income tax credit) if the state wants to help low-wage workers in low-income families.”
She also noted that “it also has the effect of subsidizing employment, which is stimulative. I suppose it’s considered ‘low cost’ to raise the minimum wage because it isn’t paid for out of state coffers.”
Others have argued for a reduction of the corporate tax rate as a way of increasing low-income earner’s pay checks, and without legislative intervention.
Legislative history has also had presidential l support as when in 1938, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a twenty-five cents increase to the minimum wage, and who faced a firestorm of criticism, but who assured radio listeners to his famous Fireside Chats that there wo would be no imminent disaster.
And, President John Kennedy, in wittily noted that “I don’t believe that there’s any American who believes that any man or woman should have to work in interstate commerce, in companies of substantial size, for less than a dollar twenty-five cents an hour, or fifty dollars a week. That itself is a very minimum wage.”
But, currently there have been some Cassandras who have predicted that machines will take over the function of these low-income workers, and that their displacement is imminent and immediate, such as Allen Sanderson, senior lecturer in economics at the University of Chicago, according to the Red Eye, the Chicago Tribune’s sister paper.
He also stated that many business might pick up and relocate to neighboring states, such as Indiana, and that there might be defection to save money, yet if after the Great Recession these businesses did not do so, then the likelihood is not apparent.
What is apparent is that minimum wage workers are not going to be able to survive without an increase in their wages, and the old chestnut of only staying in such jobs until a better one came along, were shattered by the time of the Great Recession.
Meanwhile raising the state minimum wage has been tabled till January, by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who claims that he does not have the 60 votes needed for an increase.