Small business owners Monday night attacked a proposed city ordinance to regulate employee work schedules and won agreement from the Human Services Committee to table the measure for a month.
Amy Morton, owner of the downtown restaurants LeTour and The Barn Steakhouse, said, “We all desperately believe that workers need to be treated fairly,” but the city is bogging businesses down “with so much red tape.”
“To have all these insane restrictions put on small businesses” especially in a time of economic strain is “the farthest thing” from what the city needs, Morton added.
With all the vacancies downtown, “small businesses need more support from the city, rather than more restrictions,” she said.
Chris Birkinshaw, CEO of Aloha Poke, which has one of its three restaurants in the Chandler’s building downtown, said that as a result of hiring issues caused by the pandemic, the future for restaurants will be “fewer, more highly paid, more highly skilled employees.”
He added that when Chicago implemented its fair workweek ordinance the result was an absurd blizzard of paperwork for restaurant managers.
“Its a very challenging time to consider imposing this upon businesses in Evanston,” Birkinshaw said.
Julie Matthei, co-owner of Hewn Bakery on Central Street, said small business owners are in the trenches, not the ivory tower. “You see the owners working side-by-side with employees.” she added. “We care about our business and our staff.”
Matthei asked why the city hadn’t reached out to small business owners and employees to discuss the issue before proposing the ordinance.
Creating a so-called “fair workweek” ordinance was first discussed at an Economic Development Committee meeting last May, but Mayor Daniel Biss conceded that he didn’t reach out to any business representatives to discuss the proposal until “Wednesday or Thursday” of last week.
Biss, who is listed as a sponsor of the ordinance, along with Ald. Devon Reid (8th), said he wanted to have more discussions with business owners “and provide some protection for workers that is workable and implementable for our small businesses.”
There was no mention during the meeting that any of the proponents of the ordinance had had conversations with actual workers in Evanston about the need for such a measure, but Reid did solicit testimony from a social work professor at the University of Chicago, Susan Lambert.
Lambert noted that most similar ordinances around the country have focused on much larger firms than the ones that would be impacted by the Evanston ordinance, but she claimed that the rules requiring posting work schedules further in advance can actually lower costs for businesses.
Details of the Evanston “fair workweek” proposal, and how it compares with Chicago’s ordinance, can be found in this story.