A discussion heretofore meant for Council Chambers just played out entirely on social media.  The business community requested public discussion at Village Hall to present the implications of Cook County’s minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinance, which goes into effect on July 1.  While never officially acknowledged, our request was denied after Facebook lit up with posts from people committed to higher wages.  Trustees were put on notice to expect disruption, picketing and demonstrations should they even entertain the conversation.

We had little expectation of Oak Park opting out of the law, despite River Forest, Forest Park and Elmwood Park doing just that.  However, the business community was eager to use this as an opportunity to discuss the law’s local impact, with the hope of raising awareness in anticipation of potential price increases, layoffs, or other changes. 

Best case would have been discussion of Village support in the face of the high cost of doing business here relative to other communities.  I’m still holding out for that best case, and I believe many of our trustees are willing to have that conversation.

Instead, it was a tough week on Facebook.  Small business owners were swept up in the “us against them” mentality.  That overly simplistic thought process went something like this: “Minimum wage is too low. Business owners are at fault.  They should pay workers more.  Business owners are wealthy, in part because they underpay employees.  This is bad.  Government must force owners to share their money with those who worked to generate it.”

The system IS broken.  Minimum wage IS too low.  This IS bad.  Government should help right the system.  It needs to be fixed at the state and national level.  And maybe large corporations have lots of money.  Maybe they are not-so-good.

But local, independent business owners? These are good people.  Most lack the resources to fix the system themselves.  Wages will go up, but how will we pay for it?

If we believe that the character of our community includes fun, quirky, independent, locally-owned businesses, we need to do something to ensure they are still around.  That’s all we are saying.

Join the discussion on social media!

Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...