Large corporations in Cook County would have to provide their workers with a "living wage" or pay a fee to help fund public services under proposed legislation to be unveiled before the Wednesday morning county board meeting.
Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele is sponsoring the proposed "Cook County Responsible Business Act," which is supported by the grassroots groups IIRON and National People's Action.
The proposal "aims to put a stop to unfair corporate practice of paying poverty wages, leaving taxpayers to indirectly subsidize corporate profits," the groups said in a news release.
The measure would cover businesses in Cook County that have over 750 workers who are paid less than the "Cook County Living Wage" of $14.75 an hour, or $11.65 an hour for workers with benefits. For each worker paid less than the living wage, businesses would have to pay a fee to the county that would go toward social safety net programs. The proposed fee is $750 per each $1 less than the living wage paid to a worker.
As much as $500 million could be generated by the proposal over its four-year phase-in period, according to an analysis by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"At a time when it is getting harder and harder to find good-paying jobs, adults working full-time are being forced to take low-wage jobs to support their families. It's tempting to believe that these jobs are being filled by teenagers working part-time, but the facts say different. It just isn't fair that large companies aren't paying their workers enough to meet their basic needs," Steele said in a statement. "The Responsible Business Act is vital to ensure that companies that won't pay their workers a living wage don't force Cook County residents to pick up their tab. The act will improve the lives of thousands of families in Cook County while leveling the playing field for small businesses and growing our economy."
An estimated 67 large employers in Cook County would be impacted by the proposed legislation.
On the issue of whether the Cook County Responsible Business Act would cost jobs, the proposal's supporters point out in a fact sheet that the measure "includes strong provisions that expressly prohibit corporations from cutting jobs or hours to get around the fee."
The Center for Urban Economic Development's analysis also showed that the proposal would result in a net gain in jobs between 2015 and 2019.
More details about the proposal will be released at this morning's press conference.
Among those set to speak at the event is small business owner David Borris, owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook. It hurts taxpayers and the economy when big businesses pay their workers so little that they have to rely on public assistance programs to cover basic needs, he argued.
Borris, who provides an $11 an hour minimum wage at his business, said he supports proposals seeking to shift "money slightly away from the wealthiest individuals and corporations and back into the pockets of working men and women" so that "we can actually see this money flow back through the economy."
UPDATE (6:17 p.m.): Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele introduced the Cook County Responsible Business Act at Wednesday's Cook County Board meeting, according to IIRON.