How Did Last Week’s Minimum Wage Meeting Come to Be?

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Last week, an Emergency Meeting of the Evanston City Council was called to discuss the minimum wage ordinance proposed by Cook County. We had not previously had such a public conversation, in part, because we understood the surrounding communities to be “all in,” and we shared the consensus in Evanston that there ought to be an increase to the minimum wage. However, a few things occurred last week that made a meeting, in my mind, something a responsible, good government ought to do:

The Background

  • Prior to June 26th, City leaders were told on several occasions that our surrounding communities (Skokie, Wilmette, etc.) would all opt in to the Cook County minimum wage ordinance.
  • Since the surrounding communities were to be “in” and we shared the general Evanston consensus about an increase in the minimum wage, we never discussed this in public. In fact, on a few occasions when I was asked by the press or at a Council meeting, I stated that Evanston was “all in.”

So, What Changed?

  • On Monday, June 26th, Wilmette opted out of the Cook County minimum wage.
  • On Tuesday, June 25th, and Wednesday, June 26th, two Alderman, in reaction to constituent inquiries, began to raise questions about this impending minimum wage increase.
  • On Wednesday, June 28th, we were informed that Oak Park, whom we consider a sister city so to speak, was going to meet on Friday, June 30th, at 5 pm to discuss temporarily opting out.
  • On Wednesday evening, June 28th, the Economic Development Committee of Evanston met at 7 pm at the Civic Center and discussed what was happening with neighboring communities regarding the minimum wage. There was a consensus among those five Council members that the Evanston City Council should meet to discuss whether we ought to temporarily opt out for 12 days to have more time to deliberate.
  • On Wednesday evening, June 28th, I received a call from the City Manager with this consensus, and I authorized arranging a special meeting for Friday morning, June 30th.
  • On Thursday morning, June 29th, I learned that to hold this meeting, I had to declare a financial emergency (the “emergency” being that costs to do business in Evanston would be higher than two neighboring and competing communities should they opt out: Wilmette and Skokie).
  • On Friday, June 30th, we held the Special Emergency Meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0LFqxeyzQk). Just before going into the meeting, I was notified that all the Council members supported the City opt-in (meaning no one would move the motion). Therefore, I never officially called the meeting but instead issued a statement, asked each of the Alderman to make a few remarks, invited Congresswoman Schakowsky and Commissioner Suffredin to speak, and then opened the floor for the public to offer constructive suggestions for how the City and residents could better support businesses and low wage employees in Evanston.

I am pleased that we had a community conversation about this ordinance and that the meeting reaffirmed our City’s commitment to increase the minimum wage and support our workers. I’m not so pleased about the way I had to call the meeting, but I think that our meeting helped put increased pressure on Oak Park and Skokie to adopt the ordinance, which occurred on Friday, June 30th, and Thursday, July 6th, respectively.