It's been almost four years since Oak Park's village board rejected a proposed Living Wage ordinance, but on Monday trustees brought the issue back up for reconsideration.
The proposed ordinance that was rejected in 2010 would have set the wage at $13.85 an hour for village employees, employees of those contracting with the village and any business or group receiving a subsidy of more than $50,000 from the village.
Organizers of the proposed ordinance say that wage should be at least $15 an hour now.
Bob Simpson, an Oak Park resident and a member of Action Now, which advocates for a $15 minimum wage, said wage disparity and poverty is a matter of life and death for many. Poverty not only leads to violence but also "kills slowly as stress and worry wears down a person's immune system, inviting multiple health problems."
"The ordinance in question does not cover all workers, but it's a step in the right direction," Simpson said. "I think there is room for improvement in its coverage, but in any event, please remember lives are in the balance."
Ron Baiman, an Oak Park resident and economics professor at Benedictine University, said in a telephone interview that the coalition to establish a living wage ordinance was formed 10 years ago, and in 2008, 60 percent of Oak Park voters approved an advisory referendum to pass a Living Wage ordinance. The proposed ordinance was approved by the village's Community Relations Commission in a 7-2 vote, but the recommendation was rejected by the board of trustees.
He said in an interview that more than 100 communities across the country have a living wage ordinance in place. He said the ordinance as proposed is narrow in scope and applies explicitly to "businesses that have received contracts from the village and only for work on that contract or subcontract and businesses that receive a substantial subsidy."
Baiman said he believes the ordinance should apply to large subsidies such as the $1.5 million subsidy the village recently granted to Pete's Fresh Market to open a new store at 259 Lake St. He said he also would like to see the ordinance adopted by other entities such as the park district and school district.
Trustees approved sending the proposal to village staff for review and agreed to have a report returned by July 11.
"This should not be a monumental task that requires months and months of study," Baiman said in an interview.
Trustee Adam Salzman said he brought the issue back up for consideration because "the 2010 discussion stuck me as a discussion that lacked an analysis of the economic impact."
"Other municipalities have adopted ordinances like this," Salzman said. "I think it would behoove us to take another look at this."
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said the board should reach out to the business community and the Chamber of Commerce for their input on the impact of the proposed ordinance. He suggested hiring an outside consultant to consider the ramifications of the proposal for those impacted.
"I think it's important to get it right than to just get it done," he said.
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