On Tuesday, in an effort to pull working families out of poverty, Chicago’s City Council approved a minimum wage hike, increasing the hourly wage of some 410,000 workers (one-third of the city’s workforce) from $8.25 to $13 incrementally over the next five years.
The bill, proposed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, raises workers’ wages to $10 an hour in July 2015, adding 50 cents in both July 2016 and 2017, followed by a further increase of $1 each year until July 2019. Even more remarkably, it extends minimum wage protections to domestic workers—a first in Illinois state history.
For the city’s working women, the victory is bittersweet. While women nationally account for two-thirds of minimum wage workers and the majority of domestic workers, they also comprise nearly two-thirds of tipped workers. Under the new ordinance, that wage increases to only $5.95 (the rest, it is assumed, is made up for in gratuities). “Women and people of color will lose out,” says tipped worker advocate Nataki Rhodes:
Tip workers want one fair wage. No separate low wage. How can anyone in good faith continue to pass business profits while we tip workers are suffering, standing on our feet all day, serving, bartending, washing dishes so customers can have a nice meal?
Rhodes calls the $13 ordinance “a step in the right direction,” but insists “it doesn’t go far enough.” Like many Chicagoans, she vows to “continue to fight for $15-an-hour minimum wage for all workers.”
Though imperfect, Chicago’s legislative efforts reflect a growing trend among American cities and states of taking the law into their own hands. Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco and the states of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota have all approved similar measures this year in response to the federal government’s failure to address the ever-widening wage gap. Said Chicago City Council Alderman Will Burns,
The working men and women of Chicago have waited. I believe they have waited long enough.