Thursday, February 10, 2011

Minimum wage increase proposed

By Lauren N. Johnson

Workers earning minimum wage in Illinois could see an increase in their paychecks under a proposal to raise the state's minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $10.65 per hour by 2014.

Senate Bill 1565
, sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, would also raise minimum wage to $10.65 for tipped workers – individuals who provide services, such as waitresses, car wash workers and nail salon employees. They currently receive $4.95 per hour.

“As we go forward, I want to make sure that minimum wage workers are not ignored and not forgotten,” said Lightford. “Their issues and rights need to be a part of the discussion. The bill will help to keep this important issue on the table as members of the General Assembly work to keep Illinois competitive and fair for business and for workers.”

Under the bill, the minimum wage would increase to $8.90 this year, $9.50 in 2012, $10.15 in 2013 and $10.65 in 2014.

“People who have to work for a living ought to make a living wage,” said Madeline Talbott, lead coordinator of Action Now, a grassroots coalition of Illinois community and labor organizations that advocates the rights of working families.

Talbot said 17 other states require employers to pay more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. She said that in a statewide poll conducted in January, 71 percent of Illinois voters in all regions of the state supported an increase to $10.50 by 2013. Kiley and Co., a Boston-based public polling and research firm, conducted the poll for Action Now.

In 2007, former Gov. Blagojevich signed into law a similar plan to increase wages for hourly workers over a period of three years, bringing the rate to $8.25 per hour last July. Darby Anderson, vice president of Addus Healthcare’s Home and Community Services, said since that increase in wages, the group has seen a 20 percent reduction in turnover of their employees – home aides who service elderly and disabled persons.

Members of the business community opposed to the increase said it would stop economic recovery in the state after the national recession. “Illinois policy makers must understand their actions, like significantly raising the minimum wage and imposing higher income taxes, do impact our economic viability,” Kim Clarke Maisch, Illinois state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said in a written statement.

However, Ron Baiman, director of budget and policy analysis for the Center on Tax and Budget Accountability, said a wage increase would not cause Illinois businesses to flee the state because those that would be impacted by the increase serve local markets in retail and health care and cannot “pick up and leave.”

Rob Karr, senior vice president of government and member relations for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said an increase at this time would be a “recipe for disaster.” Karr said the proposed increase would be yet another blow to businesses, citing Illinois’ high workers’ compensation costs and the recent income tax increase.

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