Chamber: Living wage proposal not clearly understood

Business community poised to respond to living wage discussion

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

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."

Contact:
Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

10 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

muntz  

Posted: July 8th, 2014 2:49 PM

Does anyone know if the village union wages are indexed to the minimum wage or if any such language exists in the public union contracts? If so, we might have a very large hidden cost on our hands.

Anyone see the monthly WARN Act report?  

Posted: July 8th, 2014 1:05 PM

Close to 1,700 layoffs announced today in IL.

Bob Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 4th, 2014 1:10 PM

We also have to consider the needs of low wage workers who do not live in the Village but who may come to work here. They should be included in this discussion as well. Please remember that the majority of the "business community" is made up of workers and managers, not owners.

Need Clarification!  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 12:01 PM

Thanks!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 11:26 AM

Need Clarification? I suspect that the Village Board in 2010 chose not to pursue a Living Wage Ordinance because the Majority Report submitted to the board did not have the information needed to answer the type question you asked. As displayed in Bill Barclay post that followed yours, the majority report sent to the board was legalese text that had opinions and conclusion but minimal supportive data. Currently, the village board has asked the village staff to do an analysis and make a recommendation. The outcome could be the village recommending pursuit of ordinance or a continuance of the 2010 board vote. There would be considerable work to be done if an ordinance was pursued. The president has stated that if the board chooses to pursue an ordinance, the board might need to contract a consultant to guide or do the work. That would be a direct expense from your pocket.

Bill Barclay from Oak Park  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 10:14 AM

LW ordinances have been passed in numerous US localities. They (i) have had little or no impact on the cost of services and (ii) have not cost jobs. This is the case because (i) there are cost savings to firms from reduced turnover; (ii) there are commonly efficiency gains in service provision; (iii) the wage bill is small relative to total costs and (iv) firms may also absorb part of the wage increase. This is not a difficult issue - let's get on with it.

Need clarification?  

Posted: July 3rd, 2014 9:45 AM

IF we pass a LWO, who pays the employees that fall under that mandatory wage? Wouldn't that be me, the taxpayer? Does that include all of the part time summer help that the Parks employ? Sounds like a lot of $$

B.S. Detector from OP  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 11:32 PM

Bob, please stop with the pity party. If OP really has significant segments of our population living in poverty, then our troubles are far greater than could be solved by an LWO. Anan is correct. An LWO screams "don't do business here" and hurts the very people you claim to care so much about. This entire discussion is a complete waste of energy. Grow the economy. An LWO does not, and will not, grow the economy. Give it a rest.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 2:17 PM

I am not sure why Anan thinks he has to be the point person on the Living Wage Ordinance. For years we have had board member acting as brokers with different segments of the village (developer, social services, etc.) It is a bad practice in a small village. It narrows the amount of communication with the residents and interferes with the village staff's work. Pope couldn't keep his fingers out of other peoples responsibility and Anan seems to be willing to follow that path. That is a different President than I anticipated when I voted for him.

Bob Simpson from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 2nd, 2014 1:46 PM

Mr Abu-Taleb said that he wanted input from the business community so that all stakeholders will be consulted. Does that include consulting with low wage workers who must live with the ill effects of poverty? That reality is also part of the "business climate" in the Village.

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