Photo courtesy of Cate Readling

Blame me, not the businesses, if you are still upset about last week’s special board meeting regarding the Cook County wage and sick leave ordinances that went into effect on Saturday.  Please do not boycott or take action against businesses I wanted to help.

My job is to give voice to small local businesses.  Your local, unaffiliated Chamber of Commerce does not take official positions on issues.  But I speak for (and yes, write for) businesses on issues they bring forth.  It is a hard line to walk, since never will I speak for the entire business community, which is too diverse to share a common opinion. 

Some Oak Park businesses raised concerns about the impact of the ordinances two months ago.  Not because they missed it last October, but because in the past ten weeks, neighboring towns opted out in rapid succession.  These business people acted as swiftly as they could to respond to the uneven playing field rapidly emerging.

We knew from our small business survey that half of the respondents were fine with the wage laws.  The other half said they would struggle.  The latter asked that we push for conversations with Village Hall.  These businesses hoped Oak Park could craft its own law – one more favorable to workers than the County’s but with flexibility for small independents.  Turns out Oak Park cannot do that.  But that was the kind of conversation we wanted, the one I hoped to lead.

Our biggest concern was (and still is) that once laws go into effect, the community will move on to the next issue and forget about us.  That is why we continued to push until the bitter end – to secure the conversation and illustrate the unique challenges to doing business here. 

The democratic process challenged us, as real conversation was offered then taken away multiple times.  I presented information, wrote letters and gave testimony which may have caused more harm than good.

If my political naivete made this situation worse, let me apologize. I hope the online threats of boycott are just rhetoric.  Please do not blame businesses.  We are on the same side.

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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...

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