Good News #1

Peter Kilander peterk at
Thu Jul 30 21:14:57 PDT 1998


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."

The Chicago-style


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

sworn statement."

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

for you."

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

Buchanan (10th).

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

the future.

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


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