Illinois bill aims to raise the minimum wage

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CHICAGO - Illinois State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, Democrat, introduced a bill last week that would raise the state's minimum wage here from $8.25 an hour to a record $10 an hour.

The current minimum wage at $8.25, which went into effect in July, would be boosted by 50 cents plus the rate of inflation annually until it reaches the historic $10, making it higher than anywhere else in the country. It would then be tied to the cost of living.

Proponents note that level would be equivalent to the peak minimum wage buying power in 1968, when the rate was $1.60 an hour.

Lightford said she wants to make sure the working poor are not ignored or forgotten.  "Their issues and rights need to be part of the discussion," she told the Daily Herald.

Madeline Talbott, an organizer with Raise Illinois, a coalition of workers and union leaders, told the Herald & Review newspaper, "People who work for a living have to make a living wage." She added it's a "moral issue," and raising it would pump money into the Illinois economy through increased spending by working people. Talbott argued that minimum wage increases have a more dramatic effect on the economy than other forms of economic stimulation because "minimum wage workers spend every dime they have. They don't have a choice."

Among other measures, the bill provides relief for domestic and agricultural workers, groups that have historically been excluded from important workplace protections. It would require that employees "in domestic service in or about a private home" receive at least the state's minimum wage. The bill would also allow farm workers to collect time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours a week. Currently, New York is the only other state to afford such protection to domestic workers.

Lightford also wants to remove language in state law that lets companies pay employees ages 18 and up 50 cents less than the minimum wage for up to 90 days after they have been hired. The bill would let employees who sue their employers for violating minimum wage rules to collect interest on the total amount underpaid and damages equal to double that number.

Republican state lawmakers and business groups oppose the bill, saying it would only hurt employers who will have to cut back their payrolls.

However, supporters say the bill would give a needed boost to the state's poorest workers. For example, the state's flat income tax structure currently allows Illinois' wealthiest residents to pay the state a far smaller proportion of their income than low- and middle- income earners.

So far the bill has four co-sponsors.

The office of Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, said he plans to review the bill but has not committed to raising the minimum wage.

Illinois has the third-highest minimum wage in the nation, tied with Nevada and Connecticut, behind Oregon ($8.50) and Washington ($8.67). The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to raise it to as much as $9.50. More than 35 million Americans nationwide work for minimum wage.

Image: Adam Bartlett // CC BY 2.0

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