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Wilmette and the Minimum Wage Controversy

What’s the Controversy About?

Cook County Commissioners enacted these ordinances despite knowing that they lacked the legal authority to do so, ignoring a written opinion letter from their own attorney which stated that the Illinois Supreme Court has been clear that such power rests exclusively with the State.  Like the County, under Illinois law, the Village of Wilmette also does not have the legal authority to enact its own minimum wage and sick leave policies.”

Wilmette Village President Bob Bielinski,Wilmette Communicator, October 2017

Cook County’s recently approved ordinance increases the minimum wage Cook County, mandating that wages rise for all employees age 18 or above:

  • From $8.25 per hour to $10.00 an hour upon adoption of the ordinance;
  • Then rise to $11 an hour in 2018,
  • Then rise to $12 an hour in 2019,
  • Then rise to $13 an hour in 2020,
  • Then by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) into perpetuity.

This would shut out many first-time and lower skilled workers from the Wilmette job market; cause the many existing businesses with thin profit margins to significantly cut back hiring in order to stay in business; force some businesses to close or relocate; and create “barriers to entry” for new businesses and entrepreneurs before they even get started. Many business owners and potential business owners will move to villages outside of Cook County, for instance in nearby Lake County, instead.

Whose Idea Was This?

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel raised the minimum wage in Chicago in 2014, just two months before his re-election.  In the fall of 2016, Cook County took the Mayor’s executive order to the next step, by approving the ordinances increasing the minimum wage and mandating paid sick leave benefits for all of Cook County. The ordinances were to go in effect July 1, 2017 for all of suburban Cook County.

In the 11th hour, a week or two before the ordinance was to go into effect, the Wilmette Chamber of Commerce reached out to the Wilmette Village Board. The Chamber advocated for the Village to opt out of the ordinance – a perfectly legal decision – like other municipalities throughout suburban Cook County.

At the same time, a handful of Wilmette residents, along with the League of Women Voters, organized to encourage the Village to comply with the ordinance to reflect what they termed the “will of the people.”

As background, an advisory question on the November 2014 ballot read, “Shall the minimum wage in Illinois for adults over the age of 18 be raised to $10 per hour by January 1, 2015?  Additionally, an advisory question on the November 2016 ballot read, “Shall Illinois enact the Earned Sick Time for Employees Act which will allow Illinois workers to earn up to 40 hours of sick time a year to take care of their own health or a family member’s health?”


So what is true and what is false?

Regarding claims made about the percentage of Wilmette residents who voted for minimum wage:

According to the  Wilmette Justice Team, (WJT) on June 27th of this year, four days before the law became effective:   “The Village approved an ordinance created specifically for Wilmette to bypass the new benefits, despite that nearly 70% of our residents voted in favor of the $10 minimum wage and earned sick leave.” 

However, election records show that 41%  – not 70 percent – of all Wilmette residents voted in favor of the advisory question raising the minimum wage statewide to $10.00 per hour.

Regarding claims made regarding the Village Trustees’ votes for the minimum wage:

The Village approved a local ordinance allowing Wilmette to opt out of the Cook County mandate raising the minimum what to $13 an hour by 2020, and by the CPI after that. Whether to raise it to $10 was never voted on by the Village Board, in contrast to the WJT’s campaign on the issue.  This stands in contrast to what appears on WJT signs in the Village.

And no Wilmette resident voted on a referendum to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour – the question was  never asked of them.

Even if the actions of the Cook County Board were legal, the Board would have acted without any data to support their ideas. Nor have the WJT or the LWV put forth any such data themselves.

“There were no working groups, no public meetings, no economic studies, no public participation in the process by community leaders, business leaders, labor leaders or local governement officials.”

Board President Bob Bielinski, the Wilmette Communicator, October 2017

What Now?

The debate continues on November 13, 2017, at the Mallinckrodt Center where the Wilmette Village Board’s Finance Committee will host its first meeting on the topic.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend and engage!

In the meantime, please:

  • Share the truth about what’s going on with your neighbors;
  • Support local businesses – let them know that you appreciate what they bring to the community, including giving many of our kids and young adults that important first or second job and the training that comes with it;
  • Write Wilmette Village Board Members – encourage them that common sense says artificially raising the minimum wage to $13 an hour isn’t common sense for businesses, employees, or potential employees.  See the article on Seattle below.

Helpful links:

Forbes: Why Minimum Wage Hikes Don’t Work – Case Study: Seattle

The Communicator/Bielenski Remarks

Wilmette Beacon on the Minimum Wage Controversy

The Wilmette Justice Team

Video: Wilmette Resident Called Out on False Campaign


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