Des Plaines reverses decision, opts out of Cook County wage law

Amid intensified pressure from business owners, Des Plaines aldermen voted Monday to opt out of Cook County ordinances increasing the minimum wage and requiring paid sick days - reversing an earlier decision.

Two weeks ago, the city council narrowly voted to follow the county rules, which raise the minimum wage to $13 per hour by 2020 and require five days of sick leave a year for full-time workers.

But business owners and the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce lobbied aldermen and arrived at the meeting in far larger numbers to voice discontent.

Aldermen voted 6-1 to opt out of the ordinances. Alderman Jack Robinson abstained in each vote.

The city council listened to four hours of intense and emotional testimony from lawmakers, advocates, business owners, residents and union leaders before taking the vote.

Over and over, business owners painted a doomsday picture of the city should aldermen not opt out. Andrea Biwer, executive director of the Des Plaines Chamber of Commerce, said she's heard tremendous fear from the group's 600 members.

"These mandates will severely compromise the ability of Des Plaines businesses to stay competitive," Biwer said.

Others argued Des Plaines would be an "island" in Cook County as more than 70 municipalities - more than half - have opted out. The laws are set to go into effect July 1.

Supporters of the wage increase, however, argued the higher pay will pump more money into the local economy. Minimum wage workers would earn about $10,000 more annually if the wage increased.

"It is profoundly wrong that we have people working two jobs and still living in poverty," said state Sen. Laura Murphy, a Des Plaines Democrat.

"This lifts people out of poverty and helps them get a living wage."

Aldermen Mark Lysakowski, Denise Rodd, Carla Brookman, Malcolm Chester, Don Smith and Mike Charewicz voted to opt out.

Alderman Dick Sayad opposed the measure.

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