Friday, July 18, 2014

Mayor Rahm drifts to the left on the minimum wage

Posted By on 07.18.14 at 03:57 PM

Whoa--not so fast. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he supports hiking the minimum wage, but not right now.
  • Chandler West/Sun-Times Media
  • Whoa—not so fast. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he supports hiking the minimum wage, but not right now.
In order to win the working-class vote and the labor vote and the all-important Marxists-in-Ravenswood vote, Mayor Emanuel has moved to the left on the issue of raising the minimum wage.

Let's join him as he sings: "This land is your land, this land is my land . . ."

Well, considering the details of the mayor's plan, the word "move" may be a tad too forceful of a verb to describe his leftward drift.

It's more like he's inched, crept, or crawled to the left. Or, to use a basketball metaphor, he faked left and went right, as my podcast partner Dave Glowacz put it.

The point is that beneath the headlines he generated by supporting a hike in the minimum wage, it turns out that the mayor won't raise the minimum wage at all—at least for now.

It'll still stay at $8.25 an hour, which everyone—except maybe Bruce Rauner on certain days—agrees is hardly enough to make ends meet in Chicago. The mayor proposed raising it by $1.25 at some point next year.

Which is sort of what he said in February, when he talked about lifting the minimum wage this year to $9.25

In any event, any hikes in Chicago's minimum wage will be delayed until after the outcome of the statewide referendum on raising the minimum wage, which will be on the ballot in November's general election.

So the working poor of Chicago are actually worse off under this mayoral proposal then they were under the last one. As always, it's not good to be poor in Mayor Emanuel's Chicago.

By the way, there are probably only three people in the universe who remember the mayor's last plan for the minimum wage. That would be Aldermen Ameya Pawar (47th Ward) and Will Burns (4th) along with yours truly.

I remember it because I wrote about it. Pawar and Burns remember it because they stood with the mayor when he proposed it.

In general, Burns and Pawar are sort of Mayor Rahm's go-to guys when he's floating an idea that makes him look vaguely liberal. As opposed to his usual self.

For the last few years there's been a growing movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It was joined last year by several progressive aldermen, including John Arena (45th), who introduced a resolution calling for a hike.

That's when the mayor—no doubt concerned that he was looking heartless on the eve of an election—proposed the aforementioned hike to $9.25 an hour, in part to undercut any effort to raise it to $15.

The mayor was immediately criticized by Arena, who pointed out that $9.25 is less than $10, which is what Governor Pat Quinn was proposing.

In May, the mayor came up with a new idea. He created a 16-person task force—the Minimum Wage Working Group—that included aldermen, labor leaders, liberals, and three representatives of the business community.

It was pretty obvious that the task force was carefully vetted to exclude anyone who might have the audacity to vote against the final proposal.

Sure enough, the final vote for the report was 13 to 3, with the "liberals" voting for the report and the three "conservatives" voting no.

So you see, the mayor does tolerate criticism, so long as you criticize him from the right.

The task force's proposal—which the mayor quickly endorsed—called for lifting the minimum wage to $9.50 next year, $10.75 in 2016, $12 in 2017, and $13 in 2018. Here's a link to the task force's report.

That prompted a wave of headlines about the minimum wage going to $13, leading many Chicagoans to conclude that the wage hike was taking immediate effect.

I hate to be that guy who always breaks the bad news, but so be it . . .

Anyway, Burns and Pawar have commanded me not to turn this into yet another blast against hizzoner.

As they see it, the mayor's far more caring and loving toward people who aren't fabulously wealthy than I ever give him credit for.

Moreover, they tell me that the mayor did not—repeat, did not—tell the task force what to do. Instead, he gave them total freedom to discuss and debate the issue among themselves.

So take that, John Arena!

Their assertion prompted the following exchange.

Me: "Are you telling me that Mayor Rahm did not order you to vote for $13?"

Burns: "You give that dude way too much credit."

Burns, who used to be a state representative, went on to say that he remains very much a supporter of a $15 minimum wage, but "the vote wasn't there for it. I'm going to remind you of a saying we had back in the General Assembly: 'We cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good.'"

Which sounds like something I once heard Master Po say on Kung Fu.

Furthermore, Pawar pointed out it wasn't the mayor's decision to hold off on raising the minimum wage until after November's referendum. He said it actually came from the left-of-center members of the task force.

The attitude was that if they immediately raised Chicago's minimum wage, poor people would have less motivation to vote in November. A lower turnout means the statewide referendum might fail, and that Governor Quinn would end up with fewer votes in his race against Bruce Rauner.

And we all know what Rauner thinks about the minimum wage. Actually, I'm not sure Rauner knows what Rauner thinks about the issue. Though in general we can all agree that whatever he thinks, it's probably not good for minimum-wage workers.

"The mayor's critics can't have it both ways," says Pawar. "They can't say he's working to undercut Quinn, like they said earlier this year, and then turn around and criticize him for holding off the raise this year in order to help Quinn."

As hard as this is to do, I must confess that Pawar makes a good point. So in the spirit of reconciliation, let me say something nice about Mayor Rahm.

I love that political cartoon in the Sun-Times of the mayor reacting to the news that Toni Preckwinkle won't run.

I know—that's more of a compliment of cartoonist Jack Higgins. But think of it as my version of methadone treatment, as I slowly work myself up to loving that mayor of mine.

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