Politics & Government

Increasing the minimum wage in Illinois passes its first hurdle. Not everyone is happy.

Illinois increases minimum wage to $15 by 2025

State Rep. Will Guzzardi toured the state to learn more about what for workers struggling in low-wage jobs. He talked to many SEIU Healthcare members about the work they love and how they struggle to provide for their families.
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State Rep. Will Guzzardi toured the state to learn more about what for workers struggling in low-wage jobs. He talked to many SEIU Healthcare members about the work they love and how they struggle to provide for their families.

The Illinois state Senate on Thursday agreed to a gradual hike in the minimum wage that would eventually bring it to $15 an hour.

The measure, which passed the Senate in a 39-18 vote, moves to the House, where Democrats have a super majority. Governor J.B. Pritzker has indicated he would sign the bill.

However, there has been a long push to raise the minimum wage in the state. A previous effort was vetoed by former Gov. Bruce Rauner. In 2014, two-thirds of voters in the state voted yes on an advisory referendum calling for an increase to the minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Under the current proposal, the increase would be phased-in over six years, starting with an increase from $8.25 to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2020 before increasing to $10 an hour on July 1, 2020 and $11 an hour on Jan. 1, 2021. After that, it would increase by $1 every year until it hits $15 in 2025.

The minimum wage for teenagers working less than 650 hours a year would increase from $7.75 an hour to $13 an hour over the course of six years.

Missouri voters last year approved an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023. It is currently $8.60 an hour.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said he had concerns from small business owners about the increase.

“(They’re) telling me ‘I’m really worried I’m going to have to close my doors,’” Schimpf said.

“I think we all agree, we need to see wages go up so people could have a better life,” Schimpf added. “The question is how do we do it.”

He asked for a regional approach, where there is a different minimum wages: one for the Chicago area and a lower wage for the downstate and Southern Illinois, such as a rate closer to one in Missouri. During a conference call, he cited a tiered approach that is used in New York.

“I would just like to see an approach that reflects the much lower cost of living that we have in Southern Illinois,” Schimpf said. “Job creators have a choice they very can easily go to other states other than or they can ship jobs out of Illinois and across the river in Missouri.”

Schimpf added there are concerns from the agricultural industry and cited a study that said a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage would lead to a 6.5 percent decrease in agricultural employment in rural counties.

During a news conference on Thursday while surrounded by Democratic lawmakers, Pritzker said the minimum hourly rate should be the same across the state.

“Workers in East St. Louis and Peoria, doing the same job, deserve to be paid the same wage as workers in Chicago,” Pritzker said.

The Illinois Republican party said the measure could cost the state an additional $1 billion a year once its fully implemented.

“Pritzker’s administration has not disclosed the full amount of increased spending his wage hike would require,” said Illinois GOP spokesman Aaron DeGroot. “Pritzker’s reckless budgeting will cost taxpayers and small businesses dearly. It is yet another Pritzker proposal that will bankrupt Illinois.”

State Sen. Chris Belt is one of the co-sponsors on the legislation.

“Raising the minimum wage to $15 will help our workers better support our economy,” Belt said. “We cannot expect workers or individuals who have to pay back student loans to be able to afford the cost of living when they only make $8.25.”

State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon, voted yes on the measure.

“Making Illinois’ minimum wage a living wage will help lift families out of poverty, and it will decrease reliance on state and federal aid,” Crowe said. “The point of a job is for a person to earn enough money to survive and support their family in a decent manner.”

Bill sponsor state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, has said the 6-year phase-in was a compromise between unions, who wanted a four-year phase-in, and business groups, who would prefer an eight-year period.

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association voiced its displeasure with Thursday’s voted.

“We are disappointed the Senate did not take the time to address ways to lessen the impact of an unprecedented wage hike, particularly on suburban and downstate employers,” said Rob Karr, president & CEO, Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “We will continue to seek a compromise in the House, and we urge legislators to not rush this issue as they consider the implications this will have on employers and employees in their communities.”

Here’s how local state senators voted.

State Sen. Christ Belt, D-Cahokia: Yes

State Sen. Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon: Yes

State Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville: No

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo: No

Capital News Illinois contributed to this report.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.