Wednesday, March 05, 2014

House begins to mull minimum wage increase

By Jamey Dunn

A House committee today began taking testimony on a proposal to increase the minimum wage in the state.

Chicago Democratic Rep. Arthur Turner proposed House Bill 3718, which would increase the minimum wage in the state in an incremental way. Under the proposal, the wage would go from $8.25 an hour to a $9.25 an hour starting in October of this year. The wage would go up to $10 and hour in 2015 and increase again in 2016 to $10.65. The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee. But the members of the House Labor and Commerce committee said they wanted to get a jump on getting information about the proposal. The legislation has 26 House sponsors.

Robert Lee, who said he had been homeless in the past, told the committee that an increase to the minimum wage would help him support his daughters. “When I have to tell them ‘no’ all the time because I can’t afford to be able to do what I need to do for them, it hurts,” he said.

Tim Drea, the secretary treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said that typical minimum wage workers are not teenagers and college students. But he said that even the ones who are, face growing college tuition costs. But in increase in the minimum wage could also mean less work available at public universities for students. Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard told lawmakers last month that if the minimum wage were increases to $10, the school would either have to cut back on student workers or cut elsewhere in its operations. “Between salaries and fixed costs, we don’t have any extra to run our universities,'' he said.

Rev. Robert Jones with the Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago said that financial hardship is one of the most common personal problems that he counsels his parishioners about. “The workers I hear from are not looking for a handout. They’re not looking for a government subsidy. They simply want to earn a fair day’s wage for a good day’s work.” He said that the cost to fill basic needs, such as food and transportation, continues to increase. “Yet, it seems that it is not okay to raise the wage for the workers who make the bread, who work at the gas stations, who produce the goods and services that we as citizens are used to consuming on a daily basis.”

The committee only took testimony from proponents today, and it plans to hear from opponents when lawmakers return for session after the March 18 primary election. Gov. Pat Quinn called for an increase to the minimum wage in his State of the State address earlier this year. There is also a campaign underway in the Senate to pass a different bill to increase the minimum wage. That legislation is sponsored by Maywood Democratic Sen. Kimberly Lightford.

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