Community group argues proposed Wilmette wage hike would be a burden to small businesses

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The Village of Wilmette in New Trier Township will be voting whether to opt into Cook County's new minimum wage hike, a measure that has been met with much disagreement given the potential it has to disrupt wages for small businesses.

If Wilmette opts in, the minimum wage in 2018 will increase to $11. In 2019, it would go up to $12, and in 2020, it would reach $13 and continue increasing after that.

Beth Feeley of New Trier Neighbors believes the proposed wage hike will do far more harm than good.

"A minimum wage hike adds unnecessary burdens to our job creators—the small private businesses of Wilmette—and will likely result in fewer jobs for Wilmette employees and more empty storefronts," Feeley told Illinois Business Daily. "Most businesses already pay more than minimum wage. They don't need Cook County to tell them to do so."

Feeley explained that if inflation gets bad, the minimum wage could become as high as $20 to $25 per hour because the minimum wage is connected to the Consumer Price Index.

"Our small local businesses, especially the retailers, are already squeezed by competition from national chains and online retailers," Feeley said. "These local small businesspeople are in a much better position to make wage and sick leave decisions. And most have demonstrated this through their already better-than-required pay and benefits."

But Feeley explained that minimum wage should not be confused with living wage, and keeping a clear distinction between the two is very important when it comes to this issue.

"The minimum wage legally requires an employer to pay a specific amount of money, arbitrarily set and without regard to skill levels," Feeley said. "In competing for labor, most Wilmette businesses recognize the need to pay more than the state minimum to entry-level employees. One reason to be against a mandatory minimum wage hike is that it takes away the chance for business owners to have flexibility when it comes to slow months, off-seasons or larger economic downturns. The living wage is an ideal of wanting everyone who works in a community to be able to live in that community.  A living wage is not what is being debated in Wilmette right now—it is the Cook County minimum wage/paid sick leave mandate."

That mandate goes into effect in Cook County on June 26. 

Feeley loves Wilmette's business environment and is committed to preventing it from going downhill.

"We have some wonderful specialty shops and restaurants, which people really seem to like and are an important part of what makes Wilmette a destination for living and shopping," Feeley said. "I want to see them thrive and more of them open up. This mandate actually works against that happening."

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