After the new Cook County minimum wage ordinance kicked in last year, Hecky Powell, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue in Evanston, said he was forced to raise prices 10 percent.
Instead of hiring three or four extra staff members — often teens — for the summer, he hired two, Powell said. Those seasonal employees now work about 20 hours a week, instead of the 30 or 40 hours per week he had been giving them.
And with this year’s minimum wage going up another dollar on July 1, Powell said he’ll raise prices again.
“When you own a business you have to make a profit,” Powell said. “Wages go up, prices go up. Wages go up, people get laid off.”
Evanston was one of only a few suburban Cook County municipalities that went along with a county ordinance passed last year that increased minimum wage on July 1, 2017 from $8.25 to $10 an hour and stipulated that workers receive paid sick leave.
Additionally, as part of the new measure, the minimum wage jumps another $1 per hour each July 1 through 2020, when the minimum wage will be $13 per hour.
“We have not heard anything from anyone about possibly revisiting this, so I think it’s safe to say we will continue to opt out for the time being,” said Lincolnwood Village Manager Tim Wiberg.
Niles Village Manager Steven Vinezeano echoed Wiberg’s sentiment.
“I have not heard anything at my level about an effort to reconsider,” he said.
One year after Evanston supported the wage increase, Mayor Steve Hagerty said the city made the right choice.
“The good news is our low wage workers are receiving more of a living wage and our businesses are adapting and remaining competitive,” said Hagerty, who added that the roll out of the increased minimum wage and the sick leave ordinance has been smooth.
“Nonetheless, this change is still underway,” he said, “which means our business and their customers will continue to have to adapt to this rising labor cost. … I’m confident our local economy will successfully adjust and remain vibrant despite rising labor costs.”
Linda Larkin, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said she also supports the increased minimum wage and its subsequent increases.
Most businesses have adapted, she said. Many in Evanston already paid their workers more than minimum wage to begin with.
“The only pushback I heard was, ‘oh my goodness, are we going to stay competitive?’” Larkin said.
She said she believes that Evanston businesses have accomplished that.
But the new rules have had their growing pains, Larkin said, especially regarding the paid sick leave requirement. For example, some employers have questioned whether employees are, in fact, sick when they take it.
In those situations, she said she encourages employers and employees to communicate more about what support is needed from each other.
“It all comes down to positive communication,” Larkin said. “We all need to stay creative and flexible.”