Municipalities throughout Chicagoland have spent the last few months deciding whether to opt out of a Cook County ordinance that would impose a graduated minimum wage increase beginning July 1 – but Oak Park has been silent on the issue.
A few days ago, though, representatives on the Oak Park Board of Trustees announced via Facebook that they are planning to discuss the question of opting out at the board's June 19 meeting.
Last year, the county approved a proposal that would increase the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 beginning in July. That increase would go up a dollar a year until it reaches $13 an hour in 2020. The proposal also requires employers to provide paid sick leave for employees with workers earning one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours on the job.
Trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney have solicited input from constituents on their respective Facebook pages, but both voice reservations about the county proposal.
Andrews, who owns the Oak Park fast-food restaurant Felony Franks, said the change would negatively affect his own business. Andrews said he already pays his employees $10 an hour but noted that if the wage increase goes through "after the 1st of the year I would have to replace staff with technology."
"I've already been getting calls from companies that install ordering kiosks that allow customers to place their own orders," Andrews wrote on Facebook. "These already exist in Europe where the labor costs are traditionally high. So the question is which is better – a higher minimum with fewer people working or a lower market-based wage that puts more people to work? I don't think we can have it both ways."
Moroney said he is "very much in favor of a minimum wage increase" but said it would force small businesses to leave the village or close their doors permanently. He notes that other municipalities in the area – River Forest, Riverside, Maywood, Forest Park and Elmwood Park – have opted out and would put Oak Park at a competitive disadvantage.
"This is not to say that I am in favor of opting out, just that the entire complexity of the issue should be discussed and understood," Moroney wrote. "The business community has advocated that we put this item on the agenda and I am comfortable honoring this request since that is a constituency that shoulders a great portion of the village's revenue."
Andrews and Mororney aren't the only two trustee voicing their opinions on the issue.
Trustee Bob Tucker said in a telephone interview that he is "adamantly opposed" to opting out of the wage hike.
"Opting out runs counter to everything Oak Park stands for," he said. "I'm disappointed that this was even placed on this agenda, and I hope my colleagues would seriously consider pulling this item and letting the minimum wage increase occur."
Meanwhile, advocates for allowing the wage hike to move forward are planning to make their voices heard at the June 19 meeting.
Reverend C.J. Hawking, a pastor at Euclid Avenue United Methodist Church and executive director of Arise Chicago, which has advocated for the paid leave provision and minimum wage hike, said her organization is holding a community meeting at the church, 405 S. Euclid Ave., on Friday, June 16 at 6 p.m., to discuss the wage increase proposal.
The group also will hold a demonstration and press conference at Oak Park Village Hall at 7 p.m. on the night of the board meeting where the issue will be debated.
Hawking said she was disappointed that trustees put the item on the agenda with no time for dialogue with trustees or the mayor. She said the sudden appearance of the agenda item with no official forum for discussion before the meeting "takes away from the democratic process."
She noted that 86 percent of Oak Park voters said in a 2014 nonbinding ballot measure that they approved of a minimum wage increase. Another ballot measure in 2016 on the issue of paid sick leave showed that 87 percent of Oak Park voters approved of requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers.
"If any politician got 87 percent of the vote, they would call it a landslide," she said. "The voters have spoken."
She said it is up to Oak Park voters to determine whether trustees whose businesses would be negatively impacted by the wage increase should recuse themselves from voting on the issue because of a conflict of interest.
"I'm hearing from quite a few people that it is (a conflict of interest)," she said. "It points to a larger picture that we often have business interests represented in our elected officials at a disproportionate number compared to non-business owners."
She said there is no proof that raising the minimum wage would negatively impact the overall business community, adding that the minimum wage increase in Chicago has not cost jobs in Chicago or Illinois.
"Workers should not have to live at poverty wages in order to make a business thrive," she said. "Employers can't have a business plan based on exploitation of its workers."
* This story was updated to include comments from Oak Park Trustee Bob Tucker.