'One Fair Wage' minimum wage for tipped workers plan passes city council committee

Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Minimum wage for tipped workers plan passes city council committee
A Chicago City Council committee voted Wednesday to pass a plan to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers in the city.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago moved one critical step toward higher wages for tipped workers Wednesday.

A Chicago City Council committee approved the "One Fair Wage" ordinance to increase pay for tipped workers, but not without some heated debate.

The ordinance will fulfill a campaign promise Mayor Brandon Johnson made, and while it is raising some concerns about how it will impact the restaurant industry, wage supporters are cheering the committee vote.

On Monday, Johnson signed off on a compromise that would phase in higher pay over the next five years.

Right now tipped workers are paid 60 percent of Chicago's minimum wage. But under this proposal, their pay would go up by eight percent every year until it hits 100 percent in 2028.

The committee voted 9-3 in favor of the ordinance. It will now move to the full city council on October 4, where it is expected to pass easily. It would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

"Passing One Fair Wage is not just admirable, it is what's just, what's right, and what's needed in this moment in this city, for every community in the city of Chicago," said 26th Ward Jesse Fuentes, bill sponsor.

But there were also many in the chamber there to voice concerns about unintended consequences that could actually hurt wages.

"I think this would highly affect my livelihood, the way I pay my rent, the savings that I put away," said Destiny Fox, server at Gene and Georgetti's Restaurant.

Some restaurant employees said they're excited about the plan even if it means they might get fewer tips.

"I'm in support of it," said J'Wann Smith, a server at Kindling restaurant downtown. "I personally don't like relying on tips or feeling like I have to. So a higher wage is always good."

Zach Currie, another server at Kindling, said he believes a higher base wage will help people in the industry earn a livable income even if tips drop.

"I think it will balance out in the long run. So it doesn't concern me that much," he said.

There is also concern about the impact on restaurants' bottom lines.

"They have no choice but to pass these costs along to their customers and unfortunately that does have an impact dining," said 2nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly.

"I think this is going to be a job and business killer, I mean there's no doubt about it in my mind," said 38th Ward Alderman Nick Sposato.

The deal was worked out between city council leaders and the Illinois Restaurant Association, whose president, Sam Toia, praised the mayor for being willing to compromise.

Some restaurant owners said this change would require them to adjust their business practices, which could mean higher prices for the customer.

"Phased in over five years, I think we've got some time to talk to our customers and determine whether we move into a more of a service charge model or we, you know, have to raise our prices a little bit," said Scott Weiner, co-owner of the Fifty/50 Restaurant Group.

"This went on for months. There was a lot of push, there was a lot of pull, but at the end of the day we're gonna have one fair wage," said 22nd Ward Alderman Michael Rodriguez.

Supporters also cited data from other cities showing wages will not go down.

"This is not at all getting rid of tips. It's very important to address that because there's been a lot of misinformation saying this gets rid of tips No, this is one fair wage with tips on top," said 35th Ward Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa.

Mayor Johnson declined to address those concerns, saying he has delivered on a campaign promise that the Illinois Restaurant Association signed off on.

"We were able to collaborate, bring all stakeholders together to finally abolish a system that really kept primarily black and brown women in a perpetual state of despair and economic depravity," Johnson said.

At least one customer ABC7 spoke to said the changes won't impact his dining habits.

"I don't think that's gonna affect how I tip I think good service deserves good tips, whether it's at the restaurant or any service industry," Ali Siddique said.