Chicago’s Tipped Minimum Wage Vote Coming Friday

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Chicago’s City Council will wait an extra two days before voting on whether to abolish the tipped minimum wage. The vote, expected during the Wednesday, October 4 council meeting, has been pushed to Friday, October 7 thanks to a clerical error.

City Clerk Anna Valencia blamed “an administrative and human issue” for the delay in what’s expected to be a done deal. The ordinance has 26 sponsors — the votes have been there for months. Still, supporters listened to concerns and brokered a compromise with the Illinois Restaurant Association that will gradually raise the tipped minimum wage over five years until it reaches the standard wage, currently at $15.80 per hour in Chicago.

While activists at One Fair Wage, the national group that’s been pushing similar measures across the country, have been confident since August that the ordinance would pass, objectors have been hoping to bargain. The transition could be especially jolting to independent restaurants and the revised ordinance, updated with input from the restaurant association, includes a $500,000 pool to help restaurants adapt. The fund comes from private sources, not taxpayer money.

One Fair Wage has also announced a news conference with Mayor Brandon Johnson after the Friday vote. They plan to announce a training program to help restaurants transition over the next five years. They’ll also offer $10,000 to $1 million grants to “BIPOC-owned small business restaurants to help support them in implementing the law and increasing race and gender equity in their restaurants,” according to a news release.

Beyond Illinois, One Fair Wage is targeting New York City and Boston for their next campaigns. Eight states and Washington, D.C. have voted to end the tipped minimum wage. One Fair Wage’s Saru Jayaraman told Eater Chicago they’d like Gov. J.B. Pritzker to support a statewide measure in Illinois.

Chicago’s tipped minimum wage at $9.48 per hour, which is $7.35 — or 345 percent — more than the federal standard, which is $2.13. Those numbers have been used in arguments against the ordinance, with objectors saying the measure doesn’t make sense in Chicago which pays workers more than the federal average. The reasoning is One Fair Wage’s efforts made more sense in several red states, such as Oklahoma and Indiana that use the $2.13 standard. One Fair Wage is looking for critical mass, to get as many supporters as possible. They reason that society should not depend on tipping, a racist and sexist practice.

The ordinance is billed as protecting tipped workers from employers that break the law and pocket tips or do not pay the difference between the tipped minimum and standard wages if tips don’t make up for the gap. The association says this scenario is rare and proposed stiffer penalties for bad actors as an alternative to abolishing the tipped minimum wage.

Though a compromise has been reached with the restaurant association, restaurant owners remain skeptical, many taking a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude believing servers will make less as they’ll have to increase prices and that customers won’t tip as much because they will spend more on food. After the compromise, one chef and owner even lamented the future, wistfully recalling the days of unpaid labor and staging. The government has cracked down on unpaid internships.

However, there are restaurants that have already raised their wages beyond what the ordinance calls for and they report better worker retention and an improved workplace culture. One restaurant owner tells Eater Chicago: “If we could figure it out, they can, too.”

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