Ald. Sophia King (4th) said her ordinance raising the city's guaranteed minimum wage to $14 an hour for most workers, which goes into effect today, benefits both workers and employers through increased stability at the workplace, regardless of today's tough economic climate.
Alongside the renaming of Congress Parkway to Ida B. Wells Drive, King said in an interview that she counts the city's minimum wage hike as her proudest accomplishment in her four years on City Council — though she wishes it could have gone further.
Chicago's minimum wage stands at $13.50 an hour at businesses employing 4 to 20 people and $14 at larger employers and will rise for most workers to $15 an hour on July 1, 2021, four years before the statewide minimum wage reaches that level.
For tipped workers, the minimum hourly wage is now $8.40 an hour for those working for large employers, up $2 from last year, and $8.10 for those at smaller ones, with the employer required to make up the hourly difference to $14 if workers do not make it in tips.
"I feel very good about this legislation," she said in an interview the day before it went into effect. "I wish we could do more, but it's a step in the right direction."
An ordinance giving workers more advance notice about their schedules also goes into effect today.
Backed by the national Fight for $15 organization and labor unions, King introduced her original bill last summer with a majority of aldermen co-signing, saying it would raise wages for 400,000 Chicagoans.
While King originally intended to eliminate the "sub-minimum" wage for tipped workers, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on raising the minimum wage to $15 by and the Illinois Restaurant Association opposed this, though the mayor otherwise supported raising the wage to $15 dollars.
"The Restaurant Association really didn't want to go to one fair wage," King said, recalling that her plan would have gradually raised tipped workers' minimum wage to parity with other employees' in Chicago. "(The Restaurant Association) chose this more aggressive increase for what they think is a more long-term commitment to not having one fair wage, but we'll be back!"
Discussions continued into the fall, with the City Council voting for the compromise bill 39-11 on Nov. 26, with local Alds. Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) supporting.
At the present, King says the economic realities of the coronavirus pandemic negate any chance that further reform could come in Chicago. But regardless of the current recession, she thinks the minimum wage hike is good policy — not in spite of the meltdown but because of it.
"You've got people who are rent-insecure, housing-insecure: they need at this point to have some security and stability," she said. "I think businesses do as well, and it's been proven over and over that the more you pay people a living wage, the more stability they have and you have as a business-owner."
"The less you pay people," King continued, "the more jobs you have to work and the more instability you have as an employer and they have as an employee. I think people are short-sighted when they think about, 'Oh, this is going to increase (stress on) an already-strained business."
The alderman said she has not heard anything directly from businesses in the 4th Ward about the policy change, adding that most already pay more than the minimum wage. "We're really just talking about some bigger corporations that may not be there yet," she said.
"I just hope that people who are working hard feel the difference and that we will continue to work hard to get them to a living wage," King concluded. "I still don't think $14 an hour is a living wage, so we're going to continue to work hard to make sure that the most vulnerable folks can earn a living wage."