Suburbs consider opting out of Cook County minimum wage hike

Leaders of several Northwest suburbs said they'll consider opting out of a measure gradually increasing the minimum wage in Cook County to $13 an hour by 2020.

Cook County commissioners adopted the law by a 13-3 vote Wednesday, despite an opinion from the state's attorney's office saying it was beyond the county's legal authority.

Suburban Republican commissioners Gregg Goslin, Tim Schneider and Sean Morrison voted against it. Fellow suburban Republican Peter Silvestri voted present.

Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson said that as the local government overseeing the nation's largest industrial park, his village board intends to thoroughly consider both the minimum-wage law and another recently passed measure requiring most private employers throughout the county offer at least five days of paid sick leave a year to all employees.

Municipalities have until next July to decide whether to opt out.

"We want to wait and let the smoke settle," Johnson said. "There's really no big rush on it."

Home-rule communities like Elk Grove Village have the authority to automatically opt out if they choose. But even officials of a non-home-rule village like Barrington are saying they have the right to opt out.

Barrington Village Attorney Jim Bateman said the Illinois Constitution allows non-home-rule municipalities to enact laws that supersede those of home-rule counties. Barrington officials have directed Bateman to prepare an ordinance for the village board's consideration stating that the village will honor state and federal laws governing minimum wage.

Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer, whose city also is not home-rule, said he too is leaning toward finding a way to opt out.

"It just doesn't feel good," he said of the Cook County law. "It doesn't seem right."

The law adopted Wednesday would increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour on July 1, 2017, and then to $11 an hour in 2018 and $12 an hour in 2019, before reaching $13 an hour in 2020.

In a memo to Morrison, Donald Pechous, chief of the Cook County state's attorney's office's civil actions bureau, wrote that his agency believes the county board lacks the legal standing to take such action.

Leaders of suburban home-rule communities that can automatically opt out said Wednesday they will first give the measure due consideration.

"What we do has ramifications on our neighbors," Johnson said. "Sometimes it's better to work in unison."

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes agreed. Though officials in his village have concerns about the impact on the business community, they would not opt out without a closer look at the language and what neighboring communities do.

"There's strength in numbers," Hayes said. "And we like to maintain good relations with other governmental bodies."

Cook County municipalities that border or overlap other counties often consider themselves particularly vulnerable to policies that would cause an uneven impact on residents or businesses.

Barrington Hills, which lies in four counties including Cook, is particularly sensitive to such concerns, Village President Martin McLaughlin said. But in this case - largely due to the minimal business presence in the village - McLaughlin doesn't expect much impact from the wage hike.

Palatine and Wheeling officials Wednesday also spoke of the possibility of their opting out, given their proximity to Lake County.

Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek said her board hadn't discussed the matter at length yet, but she believes it could create an uneven playing field for businesses.

"We believe their ordinance is well-intended, but it could very well have unintended consequences with our business community, like moving to DuPage County," Juracek said. "Doing such piecemeal legislation always has unintended consequences, and this should really be a statewide issue."

• Daily Herald staff writers Anna Marie Kukec and Jake Griffin contributed to this report.

Tom Hayes
Arlene Juracek
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