Living-wage code goes with aldermen's $10,000 increase
By Gary Washburn
Tribune Staff Writer
July 30, 1998
In a bit of classic Chicago political theater, aldermen voted themselves a $10,000-a-year pay raise Wednesday -- and, in a thinly disguised attempt to make it go City Hall pay hikes down smoothly with voters, council leaders and the
coupled with nod to Daley administration dusted off a long-dormant poor "living-wage" ordinance designed to benefit the working poor.
Of course, the bone came with relatively limited meat.
The living-wage measure that passed 49-0 Wednesday,
which requires certain city contractors to pay select
employees at least $7.60 per hour, is a significantly
watered-down version of the proposal that first
appeared two years ago.
In part because the ordinance exempts contractors that
employ fewer than 25 employees and non-profit
contractors, it is expected to cost the city less than
$4 million annually. That's far from the $20 million an
earlier version would have cost after contractors
passed their increased expenses on to the city.
Still, aldermen wasted no time in approving their own
pay raise. And rather than settle for a cost-of-living
increase that would have jacked up salaries by a few
percentage points each year, they opted for the whole
pie at once.
The $10,000 raise was approved 36-10, despite
predictions by one alderman that approval would mean
council members would be portrayed as "buffoons" and
"It's a good day for everybody," quipped Ald. Joe Moore
(49th). "Everybody gets a raise."
strategy unfolded at the 11th hour, taking even some
council veterans by surprise.
A member of Mayor Richard Daley's intergovernmental
affairs staff took aside aldermen toward the end of the
City Council meeting to let them know a revamped
living-wage measure was about to hit the floor, even as
Ald. Edward Burke (14th) prepared to introduce it.
Daley defended the aldermanic increase to $85,000 a
year -- as well as one that will hike the mayor's
salary to $192,100 from $170,000 -- as moderate,
amounting to the equivalent of about 3 percent a year
over the next four years.
But, because the raises will become effective in
lump-sum form in 1999, the first year of the next
electoral term, the true amount is about 13 percent.
The salary of both the city clerk and city treasurer
will rise to $118,650 from $105,000 under the council's
Under an unusual provision designed to put a flame
under those tempted to avoid any constituent
displeasure by voting "no," the ordinance says "an
alderman may choose not to have his or her salary
adjusted . . . by notifying the city comptroller in a
After the ballot was taken, Daley sarcastically said
that all those who cast "nay" votes should sign their
statements forgoing the money "as soon as possible."
"Morally you cannot take it," he said, amid chuckles
from the council floor. "I know it is very difficult
Due to its sensitive nature, the pay raise measure was
sent by Burke directly to the council floor for a vote,
dispensing with the normal committee hearing required
for most ordinances.
Aldermen praised one another for the good work they do
and lamented that it often goes unappreciated.
Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) invited reporters "to spend
a day with an alderman."
"We work hard," she said. "We are in the schools. We
are on the street. People ask us, 'Can you do this? Can
you give us that?'"
Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd) said he got home at 11:30
p.m. on Tuesday after attending three community
meetings. "That is par for the course for me," he said.
But Natarus warned his colleagues that "no matter what
happens, you will get bombed (in the newspapers)
tomorrow. . . . The press is going to call you a
buffoon. They are going to call you lazy. That is how
the press operates."
About half a dozen aldermen, including some who voted
for the measure, said they will pass up the pay
increase. Natarus was one of them, saying he was
fortunate enough not to need the money.
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd), who voted against the raise,
said he will accept the extra $10,000 but then donate
it to charities of his choice.
After the meeting, Daley said he may consider
establishing an independent compensation committee,
similar to one established by the state, to help set
appropriate pay levels for the city's elected
officials. Aldermen and Daley may finally be tired of
taking heat for engineering their own raises.
Burke, chairman of the council's Finance Committee and
clearly a key player in the last-minute scramble
Wednesday, said the living-wage measure presented "a
splendid opportunity to strike a blow on behalf of the
working men and women of Chicago."
Several aldermen who have been pushing doggedly for
such an ordinance were exultant one finally passed. "It
was a good fight, Ma, and we won," declared Ald. John
Other supporters were stunned and thrilled by the
ordinance's sudden approval. Just before the council
meeting, about 60 people staged a protest outside the
council chamber threatening "Payback Time in '99" for
aldermen who voted pay increases for themselves but not
the working poor.
And even if the new living-wage ordinance provides less
than supporters had wanted, they were happy with it as
a boost over the current $5.15 minimum wage.
The living-wage backers hope to broaden its reach in
After the vote, Mary Hollis of ACORN, an activist
community organization, said: "I think that it's
wonderful. I see it as a victory no matter how it
The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, which represents
businesses in the metropolitan area, had no immediate
comment, saying the impact of the measure was being
Tribune Staff Writer Andrew Martin contributed to this