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A year after opting out of Cook County minimum wage ordinance, Wilmette opts in

Thursday, June 28, 2018
Chicago Tribune
by Brian l. Cox


Wilmette minimum wage

Brian L. Cox / Pioneer Press
The Wilmette village board on June 26, 2018, voted to opt-in to a controversial Cook County ordinance that will increases the minimum wage. Board president, Bob Bielinski is pictured during the meeting.
The Wilmette village board on June 26, 2018, voted to opt-in to a controversial Cook County ordinance that will increases the minimum wage. Board president, Bob Bielinski is pictured during the meeting. (Brian L. Cox / Pioneer Press)



A year after it voted to opt out of a controversial Cook County ordinance increasing the minimum wage, The Wilmette Village Board recently did an about face with its vote to opt into the ordinance that will see the minimum wage in the village climb to $13 an hour by July 2020.

At the same time, the board during its Tuesday meeting, voted to continue to opt out of a Cook County paid sick leave ordinance that requires employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for each 40 hours of work to any employee who works at least 80 hours.

“I can support minimum wage because the minimum wage of $8.25 is too low and hasn’t been increased in eight years,” said trustee Kathy Dodd, who voted for the minimum wage ordinance but against the paid sick leave law. “I do believe our workers in this community deserve more.

“I do believe that markets drive salaries. Given that many of our neighboring communities have opted into this, is why I’m also in support of this. However, I am cautious. I hear what the business community says.”

Indeed many business owners in the village and the chamber of commerce have complained that the minimum wage ordinance will place financial hardship on small businesses at a time when they are already feeling competitive pressures from online retailers and big box stores. But others in support of the wage increase said it is long overdue and that workers cannot survive on the current minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.

When asked by board president Bob Bielinski for a show of hands indicating who was against the wage increase, about half of the more than 150 people who turned out for the Tuesday board meeting said they were opposed to it, while the other half said they were there in support of the ordinance. Many also addressed the board in support of their various positions on the ordinances during the six-hour meeting.

Bielinski said he was voting against both the wage increase and paid sick leave ordinances because he believes the county did not have the legal authority to pass them into law in the first place. He also said the wage increase will likely hurt small businesses in the village.

“We’re a very small business community,” he said. “Our local businesses are primarily small family-owned businesses.

“Small-town retail businesses have never felt more competitive pressure than they do today. People compete with Costco. They compete with Walmart. These issues have made even survival difficult for small retailers. A small retailer in Wilmette’s not getting rich, OK.”

In its 5 to 2 vote opting into the county ordinance increasing the minimum wage, the Wilmette board did make some amendments, including delaying the effective date in Wilmette until Oct. 1, 2018. It also added that the opt-in would sunset in the event the county or the state of Illinois increases the minimum wage, in which case Wilmette would then revert to the state minimum wage.

“I think that the amendments that we voted on will give us some protection so that it’s reined in a little bit, so that if it starts to be detrimental to businesses there’s some control,” said trustee Julie Wolf, who voted for the wage increase.

She also said she would not vote for the paid sick leave ordinance, which the board rejected by a 6 to 1 vote.

“I also feel, especially after talking to some of the business owners, that at this point I really would not support the sick pay,” she said. “I think the record keeping and all that are just onerous at this point and I feel that there are some inconsistencies statewide.”

Shortly after the village board voted against adopting the two county ordinances last summer, the village appointed a “working group” to study the issues and to collected input from the community. Among the findings in the final 436-page report was state employment data showing that 20 percent of workers in Wilmette are considered low-wage earners, making $1,250 or less a month and a survey of Wilmette businesses found that 54 percent oppose the minimum wage ordinance, and 57 percent opposed the paid sick time ordinance. The survey also found that 66 percent of residents support the minimum wage ordinance.

All the board members agreed that the minimum wage and paid sick leave issues should be decided by the state or federal governments and not left to individual municipal governments.

“There’s a better way,” Bielinski said. “A statewide increase in the minimum wage. A statewide paid sick leave mandate that have all communities and all businesses governed by the same laws instead of the patchwork approach that’s been created by the county’s ordinances.

“I am in favor, as I believe all my colleges have said, of a statewide increase in the minimum wage,” he added.

Brian L. Cox is a freelancer.

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