The City Council Wednesday night agreed to move along measures that will have Elgin opting out of the requirements of Cook County ordinances that establish minimum hourly wages and employee sick leave benefits that would impact some companies on Elgin's east side.
"Most of us agree that there should be an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave," Council member Rose Martinez said. "But this should be done at the state or federal level."
By an 8-1 vote and at the suggestion of Mayor Dave Kaptain, the Council directed city staff to put together a resolution urging either or both the state and federal levels to come up with higher minimum wage and a mandatory sick leave provisions.
Toby Shaw, who voted against Kaptain's request, said he felt that increasing the minimum wage could lead to inflation and that wages are best left for the free market to decide. Minimum wage rules break the laws of supply and demand, Shaw said.
The Cook County portion of Elgin makes up less than a third of the city, with the rest in Kane County. As a home rule community, Elgin, by council vote, can opt out what the Cook County Board decided late last year and has until July 1, when the new rules are set to go into effect, to do so.
The final Elgin City Council vote on the matter will be at the June 14 meeting.
Cook County's first wage increase, to $10 an hour, takes effect July 1. The wage rises to $11 a year later and to $12 in July 2019. It becomes $13 an hour in 2020. After July 1, 2021, and on every July 1 afterward, the minimum wage would increase by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 2.5 percent, whichever is less. Currently the state's minimum wage is $8.25.
As for the sick leave regulations, according to information provided by Elgin staff, covered employees would be eligible for earned sick leave when they work at least 80 hours for an employer within a 120-day period. They would begin accruing paid sick leave on the first calendar day after starting covered employment or on the date the ordinance goes into effect. For every 40 hours that the covered employee works after the worker begins accruing sick leave, the employee will accrue one hour of earned sick leave.
The accrued sick leave caps at 40 hours of earned sick leave every twelve months. At the end of the 12-month period, a covered employee can carry over half of unused sick leave up to a maximum of 20 hours.
The earned sick time can be used when the employee or an employee's family member is ill or injured, for the employee to receive medical care, treatment, diagnosis or preventive care, or if the employee or family member is a victim of domestic violence.
Shaw said he felt the paid sick leave rules set a low threshold for who would qualify for it.
Council member Tish Powell requested staff provide statistics before the final vote on how many Elgin residents are working at minimum wage jobs either in the city or elsewhere.
Still, Powell said, opting into the Cook County requirements, "would make the city an island among other municipalities that don't adopt" the rules.
Supporting material for the Wednesday Committee of the Whole meeting noted that 29 Cook County towns already have decided to opt out of the requirements, including Hanover Park, Schaumburg and Streamwood.
Elgin, Hoffman Estates and seven other municipalities are considering doing so. Countryside, Evanston, Franklin Park, LaGrange and Oak Park have decided to abide by the Cook County requirements, according to the meeting memo.
Powell also noted pressures on low income-earners, including that rents in the area have become increasingly less affordable and in many cases are more than the mortgage on her home.
Powell said some big companies that pay minimum or low wages actually wind up having taxpayers ultimately subsidize their employees, as those workers turn to federal and state programs for financial support.
Council member Carol Rauschenberger said wage and sick pay issues are complicated but believes that giving more to those at the bottom is good economic policy and that there is evidence showing paid sick days actually increase productivity.
Kaptain said the Cook County rules create a patchwork quilt across the region, particularly with Elgin being in two counties.
Council member Terry Gavin said he heard from Little Angels, the home for children and young adults with severe disabilities. The organization already is adversely impacted by the state's budget impasse, Gavin said, and he was told that a hike in the minimum wage would be a detriment that could lead to layoffs.
Gavin also noted that increases in the minimum wage might also lead some companies down a quicker path to automated services, which some already are doing.
During the public comments portion of its regular meeting, the Council heard from about 10 people who favored Elgin opting in to the Cook County regulations.
"I understand the complications," Nancy Burnidge said. "But I also think Elgin can be a leader."
Speaking through a translator, Rosa Ramirez told the council she has been a temporary worker for 18 years. She works six days a week in order to pay her rent, and if she takes a sick day, because she is not paid for it, she isn't able to meet her rent.
Ramirez said a higher minimum wage would enable her to pay her bills and contribute more to the local economy by purchasing more goods.
Ramirez said she works in an auto parts factory. "What we do is important work. We deserve an increase," she said.
Chicago Workers' Collaborative Executive Director, Tim Bell, served as Ramirez's translator. He and others said they felt neither the state nor federal government would be acting anytime soon on minimum wage hikes or enacting paid sick leave legislation.