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Lincolnwood OKs sick days for workers but rejects minimum wage
Lincolnwood Review

Sunday, January 12, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by George Castle

Workers at businesses in Lincolnwood won one benefit, paid sick days, and lost another, an increase to the Cook County minimum wage of $12 per hour, at a recent village meeting.

At the Jan. 7 meeting, Lincolnwood Mayor Barry Bass’ pro-business stance proved the difference in the village board again not opting back to the county’s $12-an-hour minimum wage ordinance.

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In the board’s first meeting of 2020, Bass’ vote against opting back in created a 3-3 tie when four votes were required to pass the resolution. However, the board also voted 4-2 to adopt the county standard of five annual sick days for workers.

The board originally voted in July 2017 to opt out of the county minimum wage ordinance. But momentum had been building ever since to reconsider that decision. In 2018, voters overwhelmingly voted for the county minimum wage in a non-binding referendum, and the issue has received the consistent support of three board members and advocacy of residents at board meetings.

Bass has been a consistent advocate to attract and retain businesses within Lincolnwood’s geographical confines, and even supported a marijuana dispensary for the village. (The board voted down the concept last year.) He has said frequently any action to discourage businesses would be borne on the backs of Lincolnwood taxpayers.

Citing recent industrial layoffs in Skokie and their “ripple” effect, Bass said “Lincolnwood can’t afford it. We need revenue to deal with future projects. That’s where the ‘nay’ vote came in.

“The last thing I want to do is hurt homeowners and residents of Lincolnwood. A fiscally responsible person sometimes has to make a tough choice. I don’t want to be the guy who makes or breaks someone going into foreclosure.”

Bass’ vote forged the deadlock along with ‘no’ votes from trustees Ron Cope and Georgjean Hlepas Nickell. Trustees Jean Ikezoe-Halevi, Jesal B. Patel, Sr. and Atour Sargon – all longtime supporters – voted to opt back in.

“While I'm proud that the Board of Trustees voted in favor of paid sick days for workers, I'm very disappointed that we were unable to do the same regarding raising the minimum wage, especially since our residents voted in favor of both in a 2018 referendum,” said Ikezoe-Halevi.

"Everyone who lives in Lincolnwood has been fortunate enough to afford living here. For many it took years of hard work and saving their money. You can’t afford to live here on minimum wage.

“It’s not right when people can work in Lincolnwood, but not afford to live here. That’s why we voted (in favor of raising) the minimum wage.”

Sargon said a minimum-wage hike benefited more than it hurt.

"The Village Board was presented with overwhelming data and information indicating the positive impacts that raising the minimum wage and having paid sick leave would have on the workers, public health and businesses in Lincolnwood,” she said.

“My vote and advocacy represent both my personal opinion -- that it is a moral obligation for us to raise the minimum wage, as well as the opinion of a majority of our community who have spoken loud and clear in favor of the Cook County Opt-In.”

The pro opting-in trustees were backed by about a dozen activists, several of whom had spoken at previous meetings on the issue. Only two representatives of businesses, Food For Thought catering and R.F. Mau, a precision screw-machining company, showed up to oppose the minimum-wage increase. Few local businesses have appeared at previous meetings.

Resident Ray Grossman said another rejection of opting-in would bring “embarrassment and shame” to the community.

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Caren Ex, an activist leader and 50-year resident of Lincolnwood, said trustees who opposed raising the minimum wage acted against the will of residents. She pointed to the 79 percent vote backing the wage increase in the 2018 referendum.

“If this is a democracy, our officials are confused about who they serve -- businesses or voters,” Ex said. “The voters overwhelmingly supported raising the minimum wage.”

Ex said no hard evidence has been brought up by trustees or companies that a business exodus would commence if the minimum wage was increased.

But Cope said extra costs to small businesses operating on low margins could be very detrimental.

“The State of Illinois is increasing the minimum wage,” he said. “The state law applies to all businesses in Illinois and gives our businesses an even playing field in which to operate…Without our businesses there are no jobs. The amount of the minimum wage becomes an empty exercise if businesses close down or if employees are laid off.”

Cope also said economic inequality will continue no matter what the level of the minimum wage.

“I have been told that it will alleviate poverty, but that is obviously not true since minimum wage laws have been in existence for decades and substantial poverty is still with us,” he said.

The ongoing Lincolnwood wage battle attracted the involvement not only of city advocacy group Arise Chicago, but also obstetrician-gynecologist Cheryl Axelrod, a member of the Midwest Center for Women’s Healthcare at the Old Orchard shopping center.

Although a Wilmette resident, Axelrod has several Lincolnwood patients. She said she felt strongly about attending to speak out.

“It is important to pay a living wage, especially big businesses,” Axelrod said. “We know when people are underpaid, they need government assistance like food stamps. Paid sick leave and better pay is vital to the economy.”

Calling Bass’ warning of property tax increases if businesses leave a “straw man,” Axelrod said a business exit is “not borne out” in surrounding communities where the wage has increased.

“Plus the cost of moving is incredible,” she said. “For most businesses that would outweigh the cost of higher wages.”

While backing the higher minimum wage, Ikezoe-Halevi held nothing against the two businesses that showed up to oppose her stance. In fact, she advocated using their services.

“This doesn’t stop with a vote,” she said. “In order for workers in Lincolnwood to receive higher wages, all of us who live here must help local businesses succeed. That means each of us must patronize Lincolnwood businesses. Every dollar you spend in Lincolnwood helps businesses and their workers.

“Recommend a business to a friend. For example, if you or someone you know is getting married or having a party, consider Food For Thought for catering. If you know of a business who can use quality brass screw machined component parts, recommend R. F. Mau.

“Everyone knows someone. Reach out and help make this work."



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