$15 Minimum Wage in Chicago on March Ballot

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The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners recently confirmed that in March of 2014 some Chicago residents will vote on a nonbinding ballot referendum on the following question: “Shall the city of Chicago require a minimum wage of $15 per hour for employees of companies that perform work within the city of Chicago where the employing company had annual gross revenues in excess of $50 million in the last tax year?” The question will appear on ballots as a minimum wage referendum in 102 precincts in 20 wards within the city limits. This represents approximately 5 percent of Chicago’s precincts.

Although the vote is advisory and does not have any legally binding effect, placing the issue on the March ballot is expected to call greater attention to the efforts of community organizations that are advocating for a substantial increase to the current minimum wage, locally and nationally. The referendum was placed on the ballot as a result of petitions filed by the Raise Chicago Coalition, a group which includes Action Now, Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, the Grassroots Collaborative, ONE Northside and SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s reelection platform includes raising the state’s minimum wage to $10 per hour over four years. Illinois currently ranks fifth nationally with a state minimum wage of $8.25 per hour, which is $1.00 per hour more than the federally-mandated minimum wage. A $10 per hour minimum wage would make Illinois the state with the highest required minimum wage in the country.

The expected impact of this referendum is to heighten focus and increase discussion during the 2014 federal, state, and local election campaigns on raising minimum wages. The referendum comes on the heels of organized work stoppages at retail and fast food establishments at the end of last year and initiatives to raise the minimum wage in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and New Jersey (although none of these state minimum wage increases has come close to $15 an hour). Meanwhile, the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which has languished in the House of Representatives since March of 2013, proposes to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over a two-year period. How the dust might settle remains to be seen, but employers should be aware of the activity at the federal, state, and local levels.