Suburbs should not opt out of employee protections

Posted4/28/2017 1:00 AM
  • Toni Preckwinkle

    Toni Preckwinkle

By Toni Preckwinkle

Guest columnist

Economic development has been a priority for my administration since I took office in 2010.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal recognized that Chicago exemplifies the "tide" of business growth occurring in cities. While that is good news, I am committed to financial health across the board for all of Cook County. That goal requires a strong, healthy workforce. Last year, our board of commissioners approved two ordinances aimed at building that workforce. One gradually raises the minimum wage in the county to $13 per hour by the year 2020; the other allows employees to earn paid sick leave commensurate with the number of hours they work, over time. Both will take effect July 1.

I was pleased to support both measures and thank the commissioners who brought them to the board. Sustainable growth requires growth at every level of the economy. The sick leave ordinance allows employees to accrue up to five days of paid time off per year, to use only when they or a family member are ill.

A healthy workforce benefits all of us. A recent survey of food workers showed that nearly 90 percent of them went to work when they were sick, including more than half who did so "always" or "frequently." And of those who worked while sick, almost half explained that they went to work sick because they could not afford to lose pay. That is not good public policy or good common sense.

Clearly, when people have more money in their pockets, they spend more. Local businesses benefit from this increased spending. And working people will spend their money in ways that meet their immediate needs, relieving pressure on their fellow taxpayers who otherwise might have to pay the cost of those needs.

Regrettably, a number of municipalities -- many of them in the Northwest suburbs -- are now passing ordinances which reduce these basic benefits. Yet none of the local governments that are undercutting our countywide policies on employee protections have stepped up to provide support for health care or housing or any other basic needs that must be met by their workers.

Capitalism can only succeed if working families have sufficient resources to meet basic needs. If people can make good health and housing choices based on their earnings, we all benefit. Ironically, none of the Northwest suburbs oppose the countywide policy of investing in our infrastructure, especially in transportation. The Northwest suburbs have been primary beneficiaries of these policies. For example, our Department of Transportation and Highways has invested in the rehabilitation of Lake Cook Road, the widening and modernization of the Jane Addams expressway, development of the Rosemont Transportation Center and now, expansion of I-294 from 95th Street to Balmoral.

I am committed to increasing economic growth, stability and prosperity fairly and equitably in all of Cook County. This requires fairness and above all, common sense.

Toni Preckwinkle, a Chicago Democrat, is president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

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