More than a year and a half after Oak Park voters recommended the idea, the village board might be moving toward a vote on a contentious new proposal that governs how much village employees and village contractors are paid.

At a meeting last week, the village board picked a date, July 6, when it will start discussions about whether Oak Park should enact a “living wage.” At that meeting the board will receive a report on the living wage, prepared by the Community Relations Commission, and decide where to take things next.

In November 2008, 60 percent of Oak Park voters approved an advisory referendum, urging the village to create a living wage. If approved, the new law would require village hall, and any contractors or businesses receiving a significant subsidy from the village, to pay full-time employees at least $11.50 an hour.

The Community Relations Commission has been studying the idea of a living wage since February 2009. And this past February, the volunteer group voted 7-2, recommending that Oak Park adopt such a law.

Members of the business community have spoken out against a living wage, arguing that, since it would affect so few people, it’s overbearing and unnecessary. Advocates say the costs would be minimal to the village, but for those it helped, the impact would be significant.

The village board will receive the commission’s report on the living wage July 6 and hear a presentation on it, said Village Manager Tom Barwin. The board will then hear three comments from each side of the debate.

The board will then have a variety of options on where it wants to take the debate, Barwin said. Those include asking staff to look further into the idea, or killing it completely if trustees aren’t interested.

“I’m sure there will be a few fireworks,” Barwin said. “There are some pretty strong opinions on both sides of this issue.”

-Marty Stempniak

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