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Skokie drops recent proposal to opt out of Cook County minimum wage ordinance

Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Chicago Tribune
by Genevieve Bookwalter•

A few weeks after the Skokie Village Board considered — and decided against — opting out of Cook County’s minimum wage and sick leave ordinance, local activists say they hope other towns entertaining the same idea are similarly dissuaded.

Originally slated for consideration on May 20, the Skokie Village Board agenda listed the item as “a resolution establishing the State of Illinois’ sole authority on employee welfare and rights. This item is on the agenda for first reading and approval.”

The village board voted to table the proposal until June 3, but on May 28 Mayor George Van Dusen issued a statement saying the resolution had been permanently tabled.

The reversal comes after activists quickly mobilized in response to the agenda item.

“We’re excited about that and hoping it sends a similar message to other suburbs,” said Shelly Ruzicka, spokeswoman with Arise Chicago, a worker rights organization.

She added that other towns looking to take up similar measures should expect a swift and large community protest.

The Cook County minimum wage ordinance was passed in 2016 and took effect in 2017. Under the county ordinance, the minimum wage was set at $11 an hour in Cook County, effective July 1, 2018. The amount is set to rise by $1 on July 1 of the next two years. After that, an “inflation-adjusted amount” would apply each year. The ordinance also includes mandatory sick days for workers if they meet certain conditions.

In a memo to elected officials, Corporation Counsel Michael Lorge wrote that elected officials, residents and business owners have asked the village to “analyze the legal status of the Cook County minimum wage ordinance” after Illinois passed its own minimum wage increase law in February 2019.

Under the new state rules, the minimum wage jumps from $8.25 to $9.25 per hour on Jan. 1, 2020. It would then rise to $10 per hour on July 1, 2020, and will increase $1 per hour every Jan. 1 until it hits $15 per hour in 2025, according to the memo.

“The issue is whether Skokie should remain aligned with the patchwork of minimum wage and sick leave standards under Cook County or align itself with the rest of the State of Illinois,” Lorge wrote.

The state ordinance does not include required sick days.

Skokie first voted to follow the Cook County ordinance in a crowded and heated meeting in July 2017, a period of time in which many suburbs were opting out. When community members heard of Skokie’s proposed change last month, they responded in similar fashion.

“Had the Skokie Village Board taken away the county wage, beginning July 1, 2019, it would have meant that local minimum wage earners would lose $6,500 just in the coming year. That’s absolutely devastating to a family. It would also mean $6,500 less per worker being spent in our local economy,” said Skokie resident and pastor B.J. Birkhahn-Rommelfanger in a news release.

In his statement outlining the village’s decision to table the discussion, Van Dusen wrote that officials appreciated the outpouring of comments in support of maintaining the current system.

“The Village saw in the State of Illinois minimum wage legislation certain important provisions: a structure that arrives at $15 per hour while Cook County’s minimum wage gets to $13 an hour; annual increases that are more than Cook County’s annual adjustments for inflation after 2020; and, a uniform minimum wage that the entire State agreed upon,” Van Dusen wrote.

He added that residents raised important questions about perceived limitations in the state’s minimum wage legislation.

“The Village hereby will stand by the status quo based on the Cook County minimum wage as adopted two years ago,” Van Dusen wrote. “We leave reconciling the two conflicting laws to the Illinois General Assembly and the Cook County Board.”

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