The Cook County Board approved a sweeping paid sick leave mandate yesterday, despite a divided party vote, dueling State’s Attorney memos on legality and some business opposition. Two commissioners doubled down on pro-worker reforms by introducing a mirror ordinance to Chicago’s minimum wage requirements that would bring the county up to a $13 per hour wage by the summer of 2019. A new tax on Uber and Lyft rides, extra procurement disclosure requirements, and a sales and property tax freeze were also introduced.

Suffredin, Daley Introduce County Living Wage Ordinance: $13/hr

Snuck in in a late-day addition to the Board of Commissioners’ new items for committee referral was an ordinance establishing a Cook County minimum wage. The ordinance (16-5768), which largely mirrors the city’s, calls for a hike to $13 per hour by July 1, 2019. It is co-sponsored by Finance Chairman John Daley and Comm. Larry Suffredin.  

“I realized that the city of Chicago has already raised it to $10.50. So if you are working on the Evanston side of Howard Street, you’re making $9.50. You get a dollar more on the other side. It seemed to me, crazy,” Comm. Suffredin told The Daily Line. “The business community has not challenged the City of Chicago’s ordinance, we might as well have the same minimum wage for everybody.”

Hours earlier in a debate over a paid sick leave mandate (details below), Republican commissioners argued the county didn’t have the home rule authority to enforce employment or labor mandates. Comm. Suffredin disagreed. “I actually think we’re in a good position to defend this, and nobody challenged the city. This is the quickest way to potentially get at least a dollar an hour into the pockets of people.”

If passed, the ordinance would go into effect immediately. Chicago’s minimum wage was approved by City Council in December of 2014, and just increased to $10.50 per hour in July. Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), then-Ald. Mary O’Connor (42), Ald. Brendan Reilly (42), Ald. Michele Smith (43), and Ald. Tom Tunney (44) voted against the measure at the time. Many of those same aldermen are part of a group pushing back against an anti-business agenda they say is coming from the city and county.    

That group includes the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Its VP of Government Relations, Mike Reever, said the organization “is disappointed that after a day in which we saw a complex and incomplete employer funded paid sick leave mandate passed, that the Cook County Board would immediately look to introduce a living wage ordinance that could potentially see future wages increase beyond Chicago’s $13/hr rate.”

“The County is facing a $130+ million budget deficit and will no doubt look to the employer community, once again, to pay for it,” the statement continues. “All the while, the County continues to pass one employer funded mandate after another with no regard to its cumulative impact, as if the aggregate of such policies occur in a vacuum and do not impact a business’ decision to locate to Cook County or expand.”

A different measure to raise wages across the county, the Responsible Business Act (RBA), has been stalled for close to a year. The ordinance was introduced by Comm. Robert Steele, but has not resurfaced in committee over concerns from the State’s Attorney that the mandate would not withstand court challenge. The RBA would have imposed a fee on hundreds of large county employers if they didn’t pay a “living wage” established in the ordinance. Supporters of the RBA have held court at several recent Board Meetings, demanding consideration of an amendment Steele said he was working on. No such amendment has appeared.

Pascal Brixel, a leader with the The People’s Lobby, applauded the move in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “If passed, this ordinance will accomplish many of the goals of The People’s Lobby’s Responsible Business Act, including putting more money in the pockets of working people, boosting demand in the economy and creating new jobs, and easing the long-term burden on the social safety net.” The People’s Lobby has protested outside several district offices, including Chairman Daley’s.

Paid Sick Leave Passes Board 11-4-1

A divided Cook County Board passed a paid sick leave mandate Wednesday afternoon, with some Democratic commissioners shifting votes during the meeting, and Republicans releasing State’s Attorney opinions mid-meeting that they said proved the move was illegal.

Committee Roll Call:

  • Yes (11) – Chairman John Daley (D-11), Luis Arroyo Jr. (D-8), Richard Boykin (D-1), Jerry “Iceman” Butler (D-3), John Fritchey (D-12), Bridget Gainer (D-10), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-7), Deborah Sims (D-5), Robert Steele (D-2), Larry Suffredin (D-13), Jeffrey Tobolski (D-16)
  • No (4) – Gregg Goslin (R-14), Sean Morrison (R-17), Timothy Schneider (R-15), Peter Silvestri (R-9)
  • Present (1) – Stanley Moore (D-4)

The ordinance, which closely mirrors the city’s, goes into effect in July of 2017. According to the labor-backed Earned Sick Time Coalition, which supported the passage, the ordinance “will allow 420,000 workers in Suburban Cook County to earn up to 40 hours of sick time a year – in addition to the 450,000 Chicago workers covered by the Chicago Earned Sick Time Ordinance.” The approval, according to Politico, makes Cook County the largest local government to guarantee paid sick leave.

For every 40 hours worked, covered employees will accrue one hour of sick time. It applies to employees who have worked for an employer for at least 80 hours within a 120-day period. Employees can carry over half of unused accrued sick time, up to 20 hours (2.5 days), to the following year.

Employees can also use earned sick time:

  • For an employee’s or family member’s illness or preventive care
  • If an employee or family member is the victim of domestic or sexual violence
  • Due to a public health emergency an employee’s place of business is closed or the employee needs to care for a child whose school has been closed.

Nearly 30 people signed up to testify. Some small business owners and business representatives came out against it, arguing it was an additional and confusing mandate that would keep businesses from expanding, or prompt moves to collar counties. Labor and workers advocacy groups argued it was a baseline right that would help protect low-wage and part time workers, keep employees healthy, and only add a small amount to businesses’ bottom line.

Comm. Stanley Moore, a Democrat and restaurant owner, wasn’t satisfied. Listing businesses who left his district and eliminated jobs, he suggested the small business owners would be hurt, and deserved some kind of exemption. “It amazes me that so many people in this room have good intentions, but tend to be out of touch with the poor people, the real disenfranchised,” he said. While not against the legislation, he said it was a one size fits all solution and needed to be amended. He was lobbied by pro-leave advocates throughout the meeting. He ultimately voted “present”, saying businesses haven’t left his far South Side district because of violence, “They leave because they’re not profitable.”

Fellow Democrat Comm. Jeffrey Tobolski, who is also the Mayor of McCook, leaned toward voting “present” as well, but testified he was swayed to vote in favor by the end of the meeting.  

All the Republican commissioners voted no, citing what they said was a growing burden on businesses in the county. One business owner, a Culver’s franchisee, seemed to illustrate their point best. “The scariest day in the year is the day I open the envelope for real estate taxes. I am completely helpless in those numbers,” he said of the thought of additional business mandates. He urged a no vote, saying he couldn’t afford to expand in Cook County. “I’ve reduced my assessed value for the past 10 years, but my taxes have gone up 50% in dollar value. It’s unsustainable and I just… I can’t.”

Republican Comm. Sean Morrison led the charge against the ordinance. “This is illegal,” he said. “I asked the State’s Attorney’s Office to opine and give us a conclusion. Their answer was blatant,” he said, referring to a memo from Deputy State’s Attorney Donald Pechous. It concluded: “Cook County does not have the home rule authority to enact a paid leave mandate for employers whether countywide or within unincorporated Cook County.”

“The issue is, do we have legal authority? Asked and answered twice. We do not,” Comm. Morrison said.

Sponsor Bridget Gainer struck back with her own memo from Pechous that said the County could defend itself against a court challenge in two ways: “First, the County could assert that the Supreme Court has prohibited home rule units from providing worker protections greater than those mandated by the State. Second, the County could argue that the proposed ordinance is a proper exercise of the County’s authority to regulate in the field of public health,” the memo said.

Pechous was called up to explain the seeming difference in opinion, which he said varied based on the way the question was posed. “On their face it may seem like an inconsistency,” he said, but if the county was sued, “We believe there are defenses and the county has an argument that this is not directed as a regulation on employment, but as a proper use of its regulatory ability on public health.”

Gainer, who had lined up eight sponsors, was confident. “I would have never brought something forward if I thought it wasn’t going to pass because it wasn’t legal… I’m highly sensitive to not putting the county in the position of being sued,” Gainer told The Daily Line after the vote.  

Comm. Gainer and her supporters have frequently framed the issue as one regarding health and workforce development. They’ve argued keeping sick employees at home leads to a healthier workforce overall. “People cannot just rely on the kindness of the people they happen to work for. You need, as a parent, as an individual, as a human, to be able to know that in your life, in this year, you will be able to call in sick, if you’re sick,” Gainer testified.

“All workers, not just those with a union card in their wallet, should have this right,” UFCW Local 881’s Zach Koutsky said. “It is the right thing to do, meets the reality of the modern economy, will improve our local economy, and make Cook County a fairer place to work.”

Other Board Highlights

Passed:

  • Ethics Amendments (16-5767) – Commissioners approved changes proposed by Ranjit Hakim, the Executive Director of the County’s Department of Human Rights and Ethics, with one exception: they voted to strike on its face a portion regarding campaigning on county-backed referenda. There seemed to be some confusion about whether language prohibited commissioners who voted “no” on a referendum that ultimately passed the board from campaigning on the referendum question. There was no mention aloud of a controversial referendum question on consolidating the Recorder of Deeds Office into the County Clerk’s office. Commissioners John Daley, Timothy Schneider, and Sean Morrison voted “present”, citing their political roles in the county and state.

Deferred:

  • Rules, Consent Calendar Changes (16-4708 and 16-4645) – The county’s “Blakemore Rule” and changes to the consent calendar will be put off to a later day. Comm. Larry Suffredin said he wanted more stakeholders to have a chance to look at the ordinance and make suggestions. The proposals would amend the county’s decorum rules for public testimony, and attempt to move public testimony to a more consistent, predictable date and time.
  • Pharmaceutical Disposal (16-1983) – Comm. Suffredin’s pharmaceutical disposal ordinance, first introduced in March, has been put on hold again, in an effort to make his latest substitute more accessible to the public. Pharmaceutical industry representatives who planned to testify yielded their time in anticipation of further negotiations. Supporters of Suffredin’s original introduction, which would have forced pharmaceutical companies to foot the bill of a much broader and more expensive takeback program, came out again to support the current bill.
  • Fritchey DJ Amusement Tax (16-5102) – Comm. Fritchey and his co-sponsor, Sean Morrison, argue in this amusement tax amendment’s preamble that existing language “has created unintended and unnecessary confusion as to what constitutes ‘music’ and has created undue burdens on venue operators who are being required to comply with inconsistent definitions, restrictions and exemptions by the County and the City of Chicago.” The ordinance is inspired by two Noble Square clubs that host DJ sets. Both are fighting back taxes owed to the county.

Introduced:

  • Tax Freeze (16-5739) – Comm. John Fritchey introduced a new “Taxation Predictability Amendment” that would prohibit the Board “from increasing either the sales tax levy or property tax levy for three years following any increase in either of those taxes by the County.” The measure would also require a two-thirds vote (12 out of 17 commissioners) for any future sales tax increases. It was referred to Finance Committee.
  • Rules for Substitutes (16-5778) – Commissioners John Daley, Larry Suffredin, and Pete Silvestri introduced an amendment changing rules for consideration of substitutes. Substitute ordinances “shall not be considered until the meeting of the Board or Committee following the meeting at which the substitute was introduced.” Suffredin has delayed consideration of many of his own substitute introductions, citing a desire for transparency.
  • Uber/Lyft Tax (16-5634) – Comm. Richard Boykin, not one to shy away from new revenue proposals, has pitched a $0.50 tax on hail vehicle and ride sharing trips. The tax would apply each ride that begins or ends in Cook County (including rides that start or end in other counties: Lake County, Illinois, DuPage, McHenry, Kane, Will, or Lake County, Indiana). It’s been referred to the Finance Committee.
  • Sole Source Procurement Changes (16-5744) – After a somewhat tense exchange Tuesday between Comm. John Fritchey and department officials over new software contracts, Fritchey has introduced procurement changes calling for a 30 day heads up on sole source procurements, and more disclosure and justification for comparable government procurements (where Cook County can contract with a company based on another government’s competitive bidding process).