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Des Plaines likely to opt out of Cook County minimum wage hike

Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Daily Herald
by Chacour Koop

While leaders in many of the Northwest suburbs' largest communities already have opted out of Cook County ordinances hiking the minimum wage and requiring sick days for workers, Des Plaines city officials are waiting until just before the measures go into effect July 1 to decide.

The city council is expected to vote in June whether to opt out of the rules, which will see the minimum wage increase to $10 an hour on July 1 and require business owners to give employees five days of sick-leave a year.

There are several reasons for the delay: City leaders were hesitant to add a politically divisive issue to an already contentious election season; they wanted to see what neighboring communities decided; or, as Mayor Matt Bogusz put it last week, the issue is "complex."

Bogusz said he's still undecided on his position. He may be spared from casting a vote on the issue -- which turned feisty in Arlington Heights and Palatine -- because a group of aldermen seem poised to opt out. Bogusz would vote only if there is a tie among the eight aldermen.

Several aldermen who've spoken out about the measures say they're inclined to opt out.

"You can't do it by county or region because that gives (communities on) borders an advantage or disadvantage," said 8th Ward Alderman Mike Charewicz, who owns a mechanic shop and served as chairman of the city's economic development committee.

"Now when you complicate things by this opt out stuff, that makes it even worse. I'm hoping that gives us enough ammunition to opt out."

Fifth Ward Alderman Carla Brookman agreed.

"I'm really concerned about local government dictating wages and benefits of the private sector," Brookman added. "If we didn't opt out, I think we'd be putting our businesses at a distinct disadvantage."

Seventh Ward Alderman Don Smith also favors foregoing the wage hike.

"At this point, I can't imagine I would vote other than for us to opt out," Smith said.

Under the county ordinance, the minimum wage will be $10 an hour as of July 1, then $11 an hour on July 1, 2018, $12 an hour in 2019, and $13 an hour in 2020. The current Illinois minimum wage is $8.25, the rate that will apply in communities that opt out of the county rules.

The sick leave ordinance will require most private employers in Cook County to offer up to five days of paid sick leave a year.

The Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce has surveyed its members but hasn't taken an official stance on the issue. The board of directors will decide its position Thursday, Executive Director Andrea Biwer said. An overwhelming majority of members want the city to opt out, she said.

"They feel like it has to be an equal playing field -- if Cook County is the only one making it mandatory, it doesn't make sense," Biwer said.

Some aldermen remain undecided, though they begrudge deciding the policy at a local level. Third Ward Alderman Denise Rodd said she was still listening to residents and wants to hear from other council members.

"I think we should look at this issue of Des Plaines relative to our neighboring communities," Rodd said. "What is the impact going to be to small businesses?"

Sixth Ward Alderman Malcolm Chester said the minimum wage should be set at the state or national level -- and probably be increased.

"It's difficult at $8 an hour to make a living and pay your bills," Chester said. But he also argued the ordinance creates an uneven playing field for businesses.

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