Daley vetoes minimum wage law

September 12, 2006|By Gary Washburn | Gary Washburn,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley vetoed yesterday the "big-box" minimum wage ordinance, setting the stage for an override vote at tomorrow's City Council meeting.

Daley's action signaled his confidence that he has the necessary support in the council to sustain the veto, and even some backers of the measure acknowledged they expect the mayor to make it stick.

Alderman Shirley Coleman said yesterday that she is switching sides. "I am going to be changing my vote, joining the mayor in a veto," Coleman said. "The community wants me to make sure than an opportunity exists for people willing to work for something other than $10 an hour, and Wal-Mart has expressed strong interest in building in my ward."

The ordinance was passed by the council in July by a vote of 35-14. Backers need 34 votes to override the mayor's veto, but Coleman's switch and the expected absence tomorrow of another backer, Alderman Manuel Flores, appear to leave the measure one vote short.

The ordinance requires that employees be paid a minimum of $9.25 an hour in wages and $1.50 in fringe benefits, figures that will rise to $10 and $3, respectively, by 2010. Automatic annual cost-of-living increases will apply thereafter.

By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, and the state minimum is $6.50 an hour - but both amounts can be less if employees receive tips.

"I understand and share a desire to ensure that everyone who works in the city of Chicago earns a decent wage," Daley said in a letter addressed to the council that was filed with the City Clerk's office. "But I do not believe that this ordinance, well-intentioned as it may be, would achieve that end.

"Rather, I believe it would drive jobs and businesses from our city, penalizing neighborhoods that need additional economic activity the most," Daley said. "In light of this, I believe it is my duty to veto this ordinance."

Maryland lawmakers passed a bill last year that would have required Wal-Mart to spend at least 8 percent of its payroll on employee health care or give the difference to the state to expand Medicaid. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the bill, and the General Assembly overrode him. A retail industry association sued, and a federal judge threw out the law this summer.

In Chicago, it was the first time in Daley's 17 years as mayor he exercised his veto power. By law, the mayor had until tomorrow's council meeting to issue his veto.

Retailers had threatened to challenge the new law, absent any signal from City Hall that Daley was going to veto it.

The ordinance applies to stores of at least 90,000 square feet operated by firms with $1 billion or more in annual sales.

Gary Washburn writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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