Niles, Morton Grove deal with Cook County wage increases

Supporters of Cook County's minimum wage and sick leave ordinances gather in front of Morton Grove Village Hall ahead of the May 22 meeting.

By Igor Studenkov | For the Bugle

This week, one topic dominated Morton Grove and Niles – the Cook County minimum wage increase and new sick leave mandate.

In Niles, the village board voted 4-2 to opt out of both ordinances, and Mayor Andrew Przybylo’s attempt to introduce his own minimum wage increase was voted down by the same trustees who supported the opt-outs. In Morton Grove, the village board decided not to cast the final vote just yet, voting 5-1 to table the ordinance until its next meeting.

In October 2016, as previously reported by the Bugle, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance that would gradually increase the minimum wage over the next three years from the current Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. On July 1, 2017, it will increase to $10 an hour. It will then increase to $11 an hour in July 2018, $12 an hour in July 2019 and $13 an hour in July 2020.

During the Niles Village Board’s May 23 meeting, Cook County commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-13th), who co-sponsored the ordinance, explained that the major reason why he supported it was to ensure that suburban minimum-wage employees are paid similarly to their Chicago counterparts. The Chicago City Council approved its own multi-year minimum wage increase on Dec. 2, 2014. It went up to $10 on July 1, 2015 and $10.50 on July 1, 2016. It will go up to $11 by July 2017 and continue to increase by a dollar until 2019. From 2020 onward, it would increase by 2.5 percent or by the increase in the Consumer Price Index – whichever is greater, though there would be no increase if the unemployment rate grows about 8.5 percent.

Suffredin said that many of the suburban communities within his district – including Niles – share a border with Chicago, which made the disparity especially relevant to him.

The county-paid sick leave ordinance, which the county board approved on Oct. 5, 2016, requires employers to give any employees that worked at least 80 hours within a 120 day period one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. They may not earn more than 40 hours per year. Like the minimum wage ordinance, it will take effect on July 1, 2017, the same date as a similar City of Chicago ordinance takes effect.

The Morton Grove Village Board cast the first opt-out vote during its May 8 meeting. The vote was unanimous, and none of the residents who spoke voiced any opinion on the ordinance one way or another.

By contrast, the May 22 meeting, when the final vote was scheduled to take place, saw a large number of residents and members of community organizations outside the village urging the trustees not to opt out.

Suffredin himself spoke during the meeting, noting that businesses that receive Cook County’s property tax incentives are already required to pay their workers a county living wage, which is higher than the minimum wage would be after July 1: $11 an hour if they provide health benefits, and $14 an hour if they don’t. And while he agreed that the minimum wage should be raised state-wide, he didn’t expect to see it happen any time soon, which, he said, forced the county to act.

“When I passed the ordinance at the county board, I said [that] I hoped that the Illinois General Assembly would deal with the issue,” Suffredin said. “Unfortunately, the Illinois General Assembly hasn’t taken a vote. I beg you, do not opt out. Give the residents in the community and those who work in the community an opportunity to make a livable wage.”

Pat Donahoe, a Morton Grove resident since 1991, appealed to the officials’ compassion.

“This proposal impacts parents who wants to have a simple, normal family life,” she said. “Where is justice in paying too little, and especially denying sick days to any human being? Where is the justice?”

Resident and former pastor Robert Burkhart noted that, while people tend to assume that minimum wage jobs are starter jobs for teenagers and young adults, that hasn’t been as much of a case in recent years.

“Young people have been pushed away because older people can’t get any other jobs,” he said.

Burkhart also said that he was involved in Morton Grove’s Bethany Terrace Nursing Center, and he saw that many low-wage workers were paid above minimum wage for a simple reason.

“They did that because they realized workers will be happier and you won’t have a high turnover,” he said.

Resident Anisa Laliwala said that, as a single mother, she knew first-hand how important the sick leave was.

As the board prepared to vote, Trustee Bill Grear made a motion to table the vote. The rest of the board approved it 5-1, with Trustee John Thill voting against.

Grear told the Bugle that he believed that a state-wide or nation-wide increase would be better for Morton Grove, since it wouldn’t put the village at a competitive disadvantage with the municipalities that opt out. He explained that he postponed the vote so that there would be time to lobby the state to take up the issue.

Jonathan Lahn, head of the Americans in Solidary-Chicago, said that he was hoping to use the next few weeks to mobilize opposition to opting out.

“In the next couple of weeks, we’ll work very hard to let the board know where the community stands on the issue,” he said.

In Niles, the opt-out ordinance was proposed by Trustee George Alpogianis, owner of Morton Grove’s Kappy’s American Grill, who put it on the agenda for the May 23 meeting over Przybylo’s objections. The mayor wound up putting up his own ordinance, which mostly mirrored the county version, but it reduced the number of sick days from five to three, exempted employees ages 18 or under. During the meeting, he amended his own ordinance to also exempt businesses that have 25 employees or less.

Before the meeting started, the board held an hour-long Informal Consideration session to give more people time to speak on the issue. Suffredin gave a similar statement as he did in Morton Grove, but this time around, Alpogianis asked why the ordinance exempted government entities.

The commissioner replied that there was no such exemption, and asked Niles village attorney Danielle Grcic to double-check the ordinance. She found that Section 42-12 does, in fact, specify that every government entity other than the county government, including the state and federal government agencies, as well as “any unit of local government” are exempt.

“If it’s in there, you’re right,” Suffredin replied. “I don’t have the answer [for why it’s there]. I don’t remember it.”

Unlike in Morton Grove, a number of Niles businesses came to speak in favor of opting out.

Katie Schneider, the executive director of the Niles Chamber of Commerce and Industry, argued that it would hurt the village’s sales tax base, since businesses would be more likely to move to a place where the cost of doing business is cheaper. She also argued that restaurants, which tend to have razor-thin profit margins, would be especially hurt by this.

“[Without the opt-out], we are really only going to end up getting chain restaurants and national chains.”

Schneider also argued that wage should be set based on skills. And, in terms of sick leave, she said that studies in San Francisco and Seattle found that five sick days may be too much, as most people only take three.

Pam Gibson, the vice-president of human resources at Hammacher Schlemmer catalog company, objected to the sick day requirements specifically, saying that the company currently offers Paid Time Off days, which can be used as sick days or vacation days. With the requirement that five days must be used for sick leave, they would either have to add five more days on top of that or reduce the number of flexible days.

“This will demolish our morale and our PR ability to recruit employees,” Gibson said.

Paul Prikes, of X-L Engineering Corp equipment manufacturer, said that his company already operates under a number of state and federal rules and mandates, and adding two more would only hurt his profits.

“Any further regulation adds compliance costs to my company,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

A number of speakers voiced support for the ordinance. Mary Tipton read a letter written by Joseph Persky, the University of Illinois at Chicago professor of economics. In it, he wrote that none of the studies he reviewed found support for the idea that increases in minimum wage would lead to job losses.

“Our empirical studies done here in Illinois support the same conclusions,” Persky wrote. “Persky and Baiman (2010) [study] looked at the 2003-2005 increase in Illinois minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour, focused on fast food outlets on the Illinois-Indiana border. We found a statistically insignificant, virtually nil impact on employment.”

Niles resident John Bracich said that, growing up in a family where his mother was the sole breadwinner, earning minimum wage, he knew first-hand just how little money it brings in.

“The problem is, minimum wage, as it stands, gets very little,” he said. “My mother worked at McDonalds at Northwest Highway, and she had work as a cleaner just to make ends meet.”

As Alpogianis’ ordinance came up for vote, Przybylo argued that the ordinance was “symbolic” since, if Niles businesses find themselves losing employees to their better-paying Chicago counterparts, they would raise their wages on their own. However, he noted that, in the November 2014 advisory referendum, 65 percent of Niles residents voted in favor of raising minimum wage.

Trustee Danette Matyas said she thought hard about the issue, but ultimately, she was inclined to vote against the ordinance.

“When I see people making eight-and-a-quarter – that’s tough,” she said. “As for paid sick leave you can’t go to work sick.”

Trustee John Jekot said that he believed in data, and he didn’t see any data that would suggest that the minimum wage increase would hurt businesses.

But most of the trustees sided with Alpogianis. Trustee Denise McCreery, who used to serve as NCCI’s Executive Director, said that, after considering the issue, she opposed the Cook County ordinance for the reasons similar to ones outlined by Schneider.

Trustee Dean Strzelecki, a former NCCI president, described the Cook County ordinances as examples of government overreach.

“Government doesn’t need to dictate how to run businesses,” he said. “We [would] give the business community another disadvantage, and we would give ourselves another disadvantage.”

Both Strzelecki and Alpogianis also said that they had a problem with the exemption for government entities.

Trustee Joe LoVerde said that he was worried that the county ordinances would hurt the business community and, with it, the village’s ability to provide services.

“I believe that the Cook County ordinance is well-intentioned, but I fear it has unintended consequences,” he said.

With Alpogianis’ ordinance approved 4-2, Przybylo put his own ordinance up to the vote – only for the trustees that supported the previous ordinance to vote against it. The mayor then proposed what he described as “[his] last-ditch effort on behalf of those who want to raise the minimum wage;” introducing a resolution that would urge the Illinois General Assembly to increase the minimum wage. That, too, was defeated by the same 2-4 vote.

It should be noted that the Niles vote puts the businesses in unincorporated sections of the Maine and Northfield townships, which are located between Des Plaines, Park Ridge, Niles, Morton Grove and Glenview, at a disadvantage. Since the township governments lack home rule authority, they cannot opt out.

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