A Worker’s Guide to the Chicago Mayoral Run-Off

In anticipation of the upcoming mayoral runoff election, we thought we’d delve into where the candidates (Rahm Emanuel and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia) stand on issues facing Chicago workers.  Unfortunately, because they have such different political experience – with incumbent Emanuel coming largely from work in the federal government and challenger Garcia being more of a local politician – it’s hard to stack them up against each other for a tidy little comparison. Further, because Mr. Emanuel has nearly four years under his belt as mayor already whereas Mr. Garcia only joined the mayoral race last fall, there is far more of a record out there indicating Mr. Emanuel’s position on these issues.  Regardless, we have done our best to share with you what we’ve been able to compile on a couple of key issues that matter to employees, so that those of you in Chicago can go to the polls with more information to help you cast your vote.  And we really do hope you’ll go to the polls!

Minimum Wage

Mr. Emanuel explicitly supported an increase in the City’s minimum wage and was instrumental in pushing for legislation increasing the wage to $13 per hour by 2019.  In May of 2014, Mr. Emanuel created the Minimum Wage Working Group – comprised of business leaders, community members, and individuals representing labor organizations – to evaluate options and create a proposal to raise Chicago’s minimum wage.  The working group invited community input via both online forums and public events, looked at data and numbers related to the proposal, and, ultimately, produced a report recommending that the city’s minimum wage be raised to $13 per hour by 2018.  See http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/general/MinimumWageReport.pdf.

While that proposal faced considerable opposition from the city’s business community, Mr. Emanuel worked with a group of alderman to sponsor the legislation anyway.  As a result, in December of 2014, the City Council passed an ordinance which will increase the city’s minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2019.  The increase will be implemented in tiers – with an initial increase to $10/hour by mid-2015, $11/hour by 2017, and $13/hour by 2019.  Mr. Emanuel explained that without the increase, Chicago was “behind a fair working wage” and that the higher minimum wage would help ensure that “nobody who works in Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty.”  http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/mayor/press_room/press_releases/2014/dec/mayor-emanuel–city-council-approve-ordinance-to-increase-minimu.html

Mr. Garcia also supports an increase in the city’s minimum wage, but advocates that the rate should be $15 per hour rather than $13.  See http://chicagoforchuy.com/issues/women-s-rights#economic.  Further, Mr. Garcia criticizes Mr. Emanuel for having waited until the last year of his four year term to address the issue and argues that the increase should not be implemented incrementally over such a long period of time.  Instead, on December 2, 2014, Mr. Garcia announced via Facebook that, if elected, he is committed to passing legislation that will increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour during his first year in office.  Whether such a big change can be made in such a short period of time remains to be seen, but Mr. Garcia has clearly stated his intent to reduce poverty in the city of Chicago and believes that this legislation is one important step toward that goal.

Paid Sick Leave

Another hot button issue which could have a big impact on Chicago’s workers and which has been recently gaining some momentum is paid sick leave – the idea that employees of any sized employer would earn the right to take a certain number of paid sick days annually to accommodate their own illnesses, to care for sick family members, to attend medical appointments, and/or to accommodate for public health closures (presumably covering those pesky snow days we blogged about a few months ago).  Similar legislation has passed in a growing number of other cities and, locally, a coalition of community, public health, and labor organizations as well as faith-based and women’s advocates called the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition has been pushing for Chicago to get on board.  For more information on the coalition, go to http://sicktimechicago.org/about.html.

In March of last year, two aldermen proposed a city ordinance providing for exactly these protections but, unfortunately, despite that a majority of aldermen support the law, the ordinance has been stuck in committee for nearly a year.  In February of 2015, Chicago’s citizens were loud and clear in announcing their support for the initiative – a resounding 82% of voters answered yes to a ballot referendum asking whether Chicago should require employers to offer paid sick days.  So, where do our mayoral candidates stand on the issue?

Rahm Emanuel could have helped move the proposed ordinance out of committee over the course of the last year and made it a priority on his agenda, but he didn’t.  His own Working Group on minimum wage stated in its report that it believed ensuring access to paid sick leave was one policy change necessary to achieve pay equity between men and women and, on July 31, 2014, the Earned Sick Time Coalition delivered 25,000 signatures to Mr. Emanuel urging him to support paid sick days.  However, he failed prior to the February 24, 2015 mayoral primary to definitively endorse the proposed legislation.

On March 2, 2015, the coalition again asked Mr. Emanuel for support – this time calling on both mayoral candidates to commit to moving the Chicago Earned Sick Time Ordinance into law.  While Mr. Emanuel failed to provide his outright endorsement, on March 13, 2015, he announced via Facebook that in the next month he would launch the Working Families Working Group modeled after his minimum wage group to “address paid sick leave for workers, provide protections to shift workers and pregnant employees, and expand access to paid leave for new parents.”

Mr. Garcia also failed to specifically endorse the proposed legislation prior to the February mayoral primary.  However, he has included mandatory earned sick leave for every Chicago worker as a primary part of his platform, indicating that such a protection “respects the dignity of workers” and “is critical for the protection of the public.”  See http://chicagoforchuy.com/issues/equity-in-health.


Interestingly, neither candidate focuses much on any other workplace issues.  Mr. Garcia talks broadly in his platform about focusing on equality and inclusivity for women, immigrants, and employees who identify as LGBT.  Both candidates talk about reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty.  It seems likely that those values and goals would translate to support for legislation and policy changes which promote workplace fairness and worker rights.  But neither Mr. Garcia nor Mr. Emanuel seems to focus on any other specific legislative goals which explicitly address workplace issues.

I recognize that these two issues certainly don’t define either of the mayoral candidates’ overall suitability for office.  But hopefully this information will help those of you in Chicago as you assess your options and come to an informed decision.