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River Forest opts out of Cook County minimum wage, sick leave rules

Thursday, March 16, 2017
Chicago Tribune
by Steve Schering, Pioneer Press

The River Forest Village Board has voted for the village to opt out of recently adopted Cook County ordinances that create new rules for minimum wage and paid sick leave. The county ordinances were due to take effect this summer.

Trustees unanimously voted to opt out of the county ordinances at the March 13 village board meeting. Trustees Roma Colwell-Steinke and Thomas Cargie were absent.

According to a village memo, the approved River Forest ordinance creates a new chapter in the village code that states the village will follow all applicable federal and state laws as it relates to these matters and "opt out" of participating with the county rules.

"The Cook County Board of Commissioners adopted two ordinances relating to private employment," River Forest village attorney Greg Smith said. "One is to set a minimum wage greater than the state and federal [levels], and the other to mandate paid sick leave. Those requirements apply to certain private employers in Cook County."

The recommendation is based upon the fact that the Illinois Constitution allows municipalities in Cook County to decide whether county ordinances, in certain instances, apply within their boundaries, the memo said. Generally, if a municipal ordinance conflicts with a Cook County ordinance, the municipal ordinance applies, village officials said.

"Under the Illinois Constitution, several municipalities have exercised their rights to adopt ordinances conflicting with the county ordinances," Smith said. "The federal government and state governments both have minimum wage requirements. Neither have required paid sick leave, however, some communities in Cook County have determined they want to opt out of these ordinances. They would not apply within the boundaries of River Forest."

According to Smith, the county ordinances go into effect on July 1.

"If a business wants to choose to pay a higher rate, they have that capability," Village President Cathy Adduci said. "And the state is still negotiating its minimum wage [rate]."

Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Yen said her organization does not take positions on such issues, but said the action should ensure River Forest is not at a "competitive disadvantage" when compared to neighboring communities.

"Balancing the economics of small, independent business and the desire to increase employee compensation is challenging," Yen said. "The extremely thin margins common in most local small businesses mean there is little excess profit that can be reallocated to employee salaries. In the short term, owners will need to pass on the higher labor costs to the consumer through increased prices. The opt out also gives businesses time to adjust their business model to the likelihood of future higher wages across the state in the medium term."

Last year, the Cook County board voted to gradually raise the minimum wage to $13 by July 2020. The first increase, to $10 an hour, takes effect this year. The wage rises to $11 next year and to $12 in July 2019. Subsequent annual increases will be at the rate of inflation, not to exceed 2.5 percent.

According to Smith, companies that receive property tax incentives or relief from the county would be required to pay a higher wage.

"They have to comply with separate county requirements," Smith said. "They're already paying what's known as the base wage, which is higher than the county minimum wage. That will remain in effect going forward."

Chicago Tribune reporter Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz contributed to this story.

sschering@pioneerlocal.com

Twitter: @steveschering



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