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Wilmette Village Board Set to Push Through Minimum Wage Hike, Paid Sick Leave: But Not Apply Mandate to Village Government

What’s going on? In June, the Wilmette Village Board voted against pegging the mandatory minimum wage to inflation increases once it reaches $13 an hour in 2020. They also rejected requiring local businesses to provide paid sick leave, including to 16-year-old part time workers once they meet a low threshold of hours worked. Both were part of onerous Cook County ordinances that applied throughout the suburbs, unless a municipality “opted-out.” 80 percent of municipalities did just that.

Wilmette’s approach was to adopt some of the provisions of the ordinances (after first rejecting them all together.) These decisions were made in June of this year following a months-long study in which a team of Wilmette residents spent hundreds of hours evaluating the potential impact of the Cook County ordinances.

In June Board President Bielinski himself was adamant that Cook County didn’t have the authority to apply the mandates in the first place, and that the wage and sick leave mandates would hurt small businesses in the Village. He voted against both.

Now, he’s completely reversing course and asking the Board to follow on November 27 when there will be an attempt to push through a final vote and approval on all of the Cook County mandates, with no conditions or reservations for Wilmette. So, why the sudden change? The ostensible reason is that an advisory referenda on the November ballot showed support for the “opt-in.” But wait a minute: advocates of the “opt-in” have always made the case, and the Board seemed to always believe, that Wilmette residents generally supported the measures.

The question was not about how people with no stake in a Wilmette business feel about the opt-in, it was about whether it was good idea for businesses and employees, and whether Cook County or the Village had the right to tell local private businesses how to operate in the first place.

If an advisory referenda is all it takes to reverse course after a year of careful deliberation, hours of community input, and hundreds of people attending Village Board meetings to discuss these issues, questions arise:

  • Just what was the point of all this effort?
  • What has changed about the facts – not feelings – that caused the Board to vote for a limited version of the County’s mandates in June?
  • Why do we need the Board to make decisions at all? Why not just hold regular plebiscites on issues?
  • If “majority rules” and can literally vote away the rights of others to run their small and family businesses as they know best how to do – what can’t citizens decide via majority vote?

And if opting in to the Cook County mandates is now a good idea because the voters feel it is, then how does the Village Board justify not applying the mandates to  local government enterprises – and their employees – ? If majority rules, shouldn’t it rule the Village government, too?

So, the Village Board by not applying the mandates to it’s own government is saying it’s okay if teens working at the Rec Center “come to work sick”? Remember, lots of young children are in an out of the Rec Center all the time, aren’t they being put at risk? It’s okay if young adults working part time are “exploited” when they choose to work for less, even dollars less an hour, than the $13 minimum wage that hits in 2020, or $20-an-hour when the CPI kicks in in years to come?
The answer of course is that the Village Board knows that paid sick leave for all including even part-time 16-year-olds will do nothing to stem the spread of illness. They know that young adults working part time, or second earners in households (which almost all minimum wage earners are) are not “exploited” by choosing to work for the prevailing market wage.
They also know that to enforce these mandates on village government would be incredibly expensive to the “customers” of Willmette government, meaning higher taxes or significant cut backs in service or both. And yet, in a move reminiscent of Animal Farm, the Board is willing to impose on businesses they have no stake in what they will not impose – because of its devastating impact – on the very government they administer.

So what’s going on? We’re not sure! Come ask the Board yourself on: November 27, 7:30 pm, Wilmette Village Hall.

A final vote on the matter will be taken that night.