Mar 6, 2017
During the run-up to the February, 2015 election, the Chicago city council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel passed a law to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour. Emanuel said this was a way to lift working families out of poverty.
That was a big fat lie.
First, the $13 doesn’t go into effect until 2019. The current minimum wage is just $10.50. And even $13 isn’t enough to live decently in Chicago with its high cost of living: the Living Wage Calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that a single adult working full time in Cook County with one child would need $24.91 an hour.
Then these increases don’t apply to everyone. The city said the raise would help 270,000 workers in Chicago. But more than 20,000 workers are “exempt” from the raise because of all kinds of exceptions written into the law. This includes young workers under 18, student workers, disabled workers, new hires in their first 90 days on the job, and people in transition programs for the homeless or those who just got out of prison. It even included the city’s own crossing guards!
And the city doesn’t even enforce the raise for workers who are supposed to get it. In order to complain about a boss who doesn’t pay the new minimum wage, workers have to fill out a form and sign it – and that form will then be shared with their employer! As of December, 2016, the city had gotten 454 complaints about bosses not paying the higher minimum wage. The city had only investigated 112 of them, and had recovered a total of just $82,000 for 51 workers. And the city had imposed exactly zero dollars in fines on bosses that broke the law.
No surprise: Election-year promises from the Democratic Party politicians who run cities like Chicago will never help workers get decent wages. That will require that workers mobilize their own forces.