Oak Park village trustees reignited a discussion last month about a proposed ordinance to impose a $15-per-hour wage for village employees and businesses contracting or receiving a benefit from the village.
Oak Park's business community is beginning to think through its response to the Living Wage concept. Four years ago when the idea was first presented the business community was solidly opposed. But Cathy Yen, executive director of the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, says there remains confusion about what a so-called living wage ordinance entails.
"The village staff will have their own recommendation (on the proposed ordinance) presented in mid-July and the chamber of commerce is in the process of collecting its members' views, so they'll have a representative opinion from members at that time," Yen said in a telephone interview.
The responses collected to date, however, "indicate widespread confusion on the definition of a living wage versus a minimum wage," she said.
"Some think they are the same thing and others think that a living wage would be widely applicable through all businesses in Oak Park," Yen said. "So we are very much hoping for increased clarification as to what exactly a living wage might mean for the village should the village try to pursue it."
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb said Monday he has yet to make up his mind on the issue and is waiting for input from staff and the business community. However, he said, he is concerned that the village not create a perception that doing business in Oak Park is more complicated than elsewhere.
The village government's Community Relations Commission recommended adoption of a living wage ordinance in 2010, but the village board of trustees rejected the proposal.
Yen said the chamber has not had time to formulate a consensus supporting or rejecting the proposal, but both the chamber and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation opposed the proposal in 2010.
According to village board minutes from 2010, Kim Goldschmidt, a chamber board member, said, "the business community would like all who work to qualify for a living wage by virtue of education, training and experience, not an ordinance."
Marty Noll, chairman of the OPEDC and Community Bank, was quoted in the minutes as saying that "the companies most affected by this ordinance are those who are generally the least able to afford it and it would be making an already difficult business climate more so."
The living wage ordinance proposed at the time would have been imposed only of village employees, contractors with the village and any business receiving a financial incentive or benefit from the village. Unlike a minimum wage, the living wage would not have applied to businesses not working on a contract basis with the village.
The proposed living wage was then set at $11.50, but proponents now are saying that wage should be around $15.
Abu-Taleb says he suggested that the village seek the input from the business community to get feedback from all stakeholders who could be impacted by the proposal.
Abu-Taleb said he has not made a decision on whether he supports the proposed ordinance, but added that he is concerned about the perception such an ordinance creates for the business community.
"If we existed 50 miles away from everybody else and didn't have to compete with surrounding communities, this would be an easy decision to make," he said in a telephone interview. "The truth of the matter is we are not. We are interconnected with all these surrounding communities. I believe we need to have a level playing field. The last thing I want to do is create a perception that our field is more complicated to play on."