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Mayor pushes minimum wage hike, aldermen frustrated

A City Council committee Monday debated the implications of raising Chicago’s minimum wage during a meeting, which one alderman described as the most “rushed” push to enact a law that he’s seen in all of his years in office.

Ald. Brendan Reilly. Photo Credit: Chicago Sun-Times files.

“I’ve never seen such a rush on any issue to get a vote” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said during the meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Audit. “I’m frustrated that we’re here to vote on a substantial piece of policy without much time to review.”

The meeting took place on the eve of an emergency City Council hearing to vote on legislation that would increase the hourly minimum wage from $8.25 to $10, effective July 1, 2015.

A city Law Department spokesman explained during the meeting that under the proposal, the hourly minimum wage would increase to $10 in 2015 and would increase incrementally each year until reaching $13 in 2019.

After 2019, the minimum wage would increase annually to keep up with inflation—unless a year’s unemployment rate surpasses 8.5 percent, at which point increases to the minimum wage would be halted to protect businesses from financial strain, the Law Department spokesman said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The mayor, the subject of a book titled “Mayor 1%” has been accused by some opponents of rushing to beat a statewide effort to raise the minimum wage during an election season to gain favor among progressives.

While the committee’s consensus was that the minimum wage should be increased, few members were content with the information they were presented with Monday.

In addition to a handful of—generally angry—requests for clarifications and additional statistics, several aldermen questioned why the city would attempt to implement what they believe is a measure that should be handled at the state or federal level.

Ald. Mary O’Connor (41st) gave a statement to the committee, in which she encouraged raising the minimum wage, but also warned that there should be a “uniform minimum wage in the state so we can all play by the same rules.”

While a handful of committee members expressed their belief that the city government should not set its own minimum wage, only Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) vocally opposed the measure.

Tunney, who owns three Ann Sather restaurants on the North Side, claimed that raising the minimum wage would hurt small business owners in his ward.

The city’s push to up the minimum wage makes good on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s promise to put the issue to a vote by the end of the year—which could also boost his image in time for campaign season.

The full City Council is scheduled to vote in a special session Tuesday on whether to increase the minimum wage for Chicago.

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