June 13th, 2017 3:22 PM
ROBERT J. LIFKA
The Forest Park Village Council unanimously voted June 12 to opt out of two new Cook County earned sick leave and minimum wage ordinances, following about 90 minutes of public comment from dozens of attendees.
The Cook County minimum wage ordinance, adopted in October 2016 and effective July 1, 2017, increases the minimum hourly wage to $10, a $1.75 bump from the current $8.25 per hour rate. The ordinance also requires a $1.00 raise for each of the next three years. By summer 2020, then, the Cook County minimum wage will be $13 per hour. The second ordinance provides a way for employees to accrue paid days off for sick leave.
By opting out of the ordinances, Forest Park joined a growing list of communities choosing to forgo the new requirements, including neighboring Riverside, River Forest, Bellwood and Maywood, a list estimated by village officials to be over 40 municipalities. According to the Illinois Constitution, if a Cook County and local municipal ordinance conflict, the municipal law wins out.
"This is not something any of us take lightly," Commission Rachel Entler said, referring to the council. "It's really a hard place to be."
Several other commissioners and Mayor Anthony Calderone said they did not oppose an increase in the minimum wage and noted the difficulty of their decision. They were also critical of Cook County Board of Commissioners and expressed a preference for legislation that would raise the minimum wage statewide.
Calderone said he supported House Bill 198, which would hike the minimum wage statewide from the current $8.25 to $15 by 2022 and provide relief to small businesses by making them eligible to receive a tax credit to offset the additional costs.
"The state should take action," Calderone said. "That is really where it should take place. It's the most proper and responsible thing to do."
Commissioner Tom Mannix called the state legislation "far superior."
Calling his vote "a very hard decision to make," Commissioner Joe Byrnes criticized the Cook County Board of Commissioners for not soliciting input from municipalities.
Entler added she supports a higher minimum wage and paid sick leave but said some of the details of the county ordinances, such as exempting government entities, raised questions. Entler also acknowledged input from residents and local businesses she received, saying she "has to consider the small businesses."
Although the council chambers were no longer packed by the time the vote was taken — almost three hours after the meeting was called to order — a handful of the audience opposing the decision chanted "Vote them out" as they headed for the exit.
Many attendees in the well-mannered crowd held signs supporting the minimum wage. Some opposing the opt-out handed out sheets of colored paper, red on one side and green on the other, to be raised to show support for or opposition to a speaker's remarks.
Of the over 30 public comment, only four favored the opt-out. All were affiliated with Forest Park businesses, including the Chamber of Commerce and Development president. About half of those opposing the opt-out are Forest Park residents with the rest coming from neighboring municipalities such as Berwyn, Chicago and Oak Park.
Speakers opposing the opt-out represented Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cook County Clerk David Orr as well as organizations Arise Chicago, Black Workers Matter, the Democratic Party of Oak Park Labor Committee and Suburban Unity Alliance. Two clergy members from Oak Park voiced opposition to the opt-out, as did a University of Illinois labor professor.
Businessmen supporting the opt-out said they believe the two ordinances would have an adverse effect on their businesses, specifically the minimum wage increase. They also speculated that a higher minimum wage could lead to higher prices or businesses closing as well as a negative effect on employees such as layoffs or reduced hours.
Chamber president Joel Foster said over half of his organization's membership responded to a poll regarding the opt-out and 80 percent of those responding are supportive.
Opt-out opponents said the current minimum wage is not sufficient, adding the current minimum wage can barely support an individual, much less a family.
They also disputed the notion that minimum wage jobs are filled mainly by part-time employees and high school students and argued a higher minimum wage will help create jobs and grow the economy.
Eighty-five percent of Forest Park voters supported a higher state minimum wage in a non-binding referendum in November 2014 and 89 percent supported paid sick days on the state level in a November 2016 referendum.
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