Wilmette Beacon: The Minimum Wage Debate
Wilmette Village Board: Revote on minimum wage, sick leave ordinances approved
Almost exactly a year after the Village of Wilmette opted out of Cook County ordinances to raise the minimum wage and institute paid sick leave, the Village Board will take another vote on the issue that has driven a wedge between many residents and business owners.
Village President Bob Bielinski said Tuesday night, May 15, the Board will vote June 26 on new ordinances that, if approved, would effectively raise the minimum wage in Wilmette from $8.25 to $11 an hour starting in July.
The new ordinances, which will be introduced at the Board’s June 12 meeting, will contain language to repeal last year’s opt-out ordinances and opt in to Cook County ordinances, Bielinski said after more than 30 residents, workers, business owners and advocates spoke.
“We promised the community that we were going to address this issue within a year, if we could,” Bielinski said, giving no indication how he or other Board members will vote.
The Wilmette Village Board opted out of the county’s minimum-wage and paid sick leave ordinances last June just days before the minimum wage was increased from $8.25 to $10 an hour, the first of four annual increases that will see the minimum wage reach $13 an hour in July 2020.
Wilmette joined Northbrook, Glenview and more than 100 other suburban Cook County municipalities in opting out of the ordinances.
In December, the Board formed a seven-member group, chaired by John Jacoby, former Village President and columnist for The Beacon, to study how the Cook County ordinances could affect Wilmette workers and businesses.
Picking out several major highlights from the group’s 436-page final report, Jacoby said 20 percent of workers — more than 1,300 — in Wilmette earn less than $1,250 per month.
Phone surveys conducted by the Village and a polling firm showed 66 percent of Wilmette residents support the adoption of the county’s ordinances, while 54 percent of businesses oppose the increased minimum wage and 57 percent oppose mandated paid sick leave, Jacoby said.
Throughout the 2 1/2 hour meeting, members of the Board and public on both sides thanked Jacoby and his group for putting together a comprehensive and unbiased report on the potential impacts of the county’s ordinances.
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin lauded the group’s work as “one of the most remarkable reports by a municipality that’s ever been produced” in the county, while Bielinski led an ovation for the Wilmette residents and business owners who created and contributed to the report.
“I think it has all the information in it that is important to making a decision, so I hope that not only the Board but residents will study it and try to come to the best decision for the community,” Jacoby said.
Since the ordinances went into effect on July 1, 2017, full-time workers earning the minimum wage in Wilmette and other municipalities that opted out of the ordinances have missed out on more than $3,000 in pre-tax earnings.
With the minimum wage set to increase again at the start of July — to $11 an hour — minimum-wage workers in these municipalities stand to leave another $5,700 on the table between then and the end of June 2019.
At an “Opt In” rally outside Village Hall prior to the meeting, Skokie resident Mariah Malave said she only took two weeks off after giving birth to her daughter because she couldn’t afford to miss more work.
“The financial reality of being a mother weighed down on me every day,” Malave said, recounting how she often added water to milk and washed clothes in her sink to save money.
Public sentiment for the ordinances was evenly split throughout the 100 minutes of public comment, with more than a dozen people speaking on each side of the issue. A handful of small business owners pleaded with the Board to trust them to run their own companies, and some alleged bullying and boycotting of their businesses after they supported the Board’s decision to opt out last year.
Betsy Hart, who staged a mini counter-protest to support small business owners during the Opt In rally, said she was “so encouraged” by the number of people who spoke in support of “common sense” and opting out ahead of a second vote.
“People don’t get to vote away other people’s money,” Hart said. “This isn’t Moscow. It’s Wilmette.”