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Emanuel Calls On City Agencies To Adopt $13/Hour Minimum Wage For Contractors

By Chuck Sudo in News on Sep 30, 2014 4:40PM

Photo credit: Patrick Pyszka/City of Chicago

Hot on the heels of signing an executive order requiring city contractors to pay their employees a minimum wage of $13 an hour, Mayor Rahm Emanuel encouraged all city agencies to follow suit.

Emanuel called upon Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Park District, the Public Buildings Commission and City Colleges of Chicago to require contractors and subcontractors to pay employees a $13 minimum hourly wage. This would benefit nearly 2,400 employees, mostly custodial, landscaping and maintenance workers, and bus drivers and aides. Emanuel, in an official statement from his press office, essentially implored the various city departments to do it for the children. “A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who is contracted to do work with any arm of the City of Chicago will ever have to raise their children in poverty.”

In case you needed further proof a mayoral election is on the horizon, there it is.

This raises two questions. First, why is Emanuel suddenly acting as though he has no influence over any of the city’s agencies? He can’t tell his hand-picked school board and CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett to make it so? Second, why didn’t the executive order he signed Sept. 2 include CPS, CHA, et al, in the order?

Ald. Will Burns (4th), co-chair of the mayor’s minimum wage task force, explains.

“Having all City of Chicago sister agencies commit to this important goal will reinforce that all contracted businesses should be held to the same high standards that we already hold for Chicago’s business community. This effort represents another step towards our goal of a $13 minimum wage for Chicago workers, which will boost the incomes for more than 400,000 workers and lift 80,000 residents out of poverty.”

That’s a low bar and some of those contractors are already reaching it. Take the case of Aramark, which has a $260 million contract with CPS, yet schools are dirtier than ever as Aramark announced they would lay off 476 custodians at the end of the month. What’s to stop other contractors from following suit or passing off the costs to taxpayers? Burns told the Sun-Times:

“(Contractors) may find they have higher productivity, less turnover and higher job satisfaction because their employees are earning more money. If you have higher productivity and less turnover, that reduces your costs in the long run,” the alderman said.

Getting contractors to focus on the long term bottom line may be the rosiest perspective of all.