Faced with an overflow crowd of minimum-wage-hike activists, Evanston aldermen and Mayor Steve Hagerty insisted at an emergency City Counccil meeting this morning that they all favored the scheduled July 1 increase to $10 an hour.
They didn’t even take up a proposed ordinance to put a hold on the increase until the next scheduled City Council meeting on July 10.
Hagerty had called the emergency session after learning that the city’s neighbor to the north, Wilmette, had opted out of the county pay hike ordinance this week and that the city’s neighbor to the west, Skokie is considering an opt-out vote next week.
He said he just wanted to discuss what Evanston could do to meet the challenges the ordinance will pose for Evanston businesses if businesses in neighboring towns can sell their products and services for less.
He said he hoped to have more discussion about that at the July 10 meeting.
County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, who sponsored the county’s pay hike measure, told aldermen he believes Evanston’s real competition is Chicago, not Wilmette. Chicago’s minimum wage will rise on July 1 to $11, a dollar more than the hike imposed under the county measure.
Suffedin said the Chicago Chamber of Commerce has concluded that the higher minimum wage there has had benefit of creating more stable workforce, and he said he looks forward to working with the Evanston Chamber of Commerce to improve the quality of business life here.
He also noted that state lawmakers sent Gov. Rauner a bill this week that would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2022. And he encouraged resident at the meeting to urge the governor to sign it.
A largely skeptical crowd frequently booed and shouted at aldermen as they explained their position on the issue.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “People have said a lot of hateful things to me” and made false claims about his views since news of the emergency meeting spread Thursday morning.
“I can’t do my job on Facebook, I’m not Facebook friends with all 75,000 people in Evanston,” Wilson said, adding that once the new wage goes into effect the community will have to work “to demonstrate that this can work well and have a positive impact.”
Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she supports the minimum wage increase and want the city to increase its purchases from local businesses.
Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, said Evanston’s principles “are not subject to the whims of Wilmette or Skokie. Evanston should be a leader and we intend to keep it that way.”
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, said she supports the minimum wage increase — to ensure that workers in Evanston are able to make a better living.
She said she hoped Evanston’s decision not to opt out of the wage hike would send a message to Oak Park which will be making its decision later today that increasing the minimum wage is the way to go.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the meeting should have been cancelled, which would simply have let the wage increase go inteo effect. “People should be working and earning a living wage rather than attending a meeting that wasn’t necessary,” Rainey added
Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, said that beyond increasing the minimum wage the city also needs to address the disparity in employment rates by race — that the jobless level for blacks is more than twice that for whites, while median incomes for black residents are half that for whites. She encouraged the crowd to turn out for discussions of the city’s equity plan and budget issues on July 10.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said that when she ran a local business she paid her employees $15 an hour, but understands even that isn’t enough.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said that with the wage increase “we will need to support our local businesses, and some of us will have to change our shopping habits.”
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says she’s been a long-time supporter of raising the minimum wage and improving sick leave policies. The minimum wage should have been indexed when it was first established, Wynne said.
“It’s all of us participating in the local economy that will keep us thriving,” Wynne said. “If you have to pay a little bit more to buy it in Evanston, that’s worth the sacrifice. I want to have a thriving business community.”