Home Rules: Cook County echoes Chicago on paid sick leave, min wage, frustrating suburban communities

By Stephanie N. Grimoldby | Dec 6, 2016

At a time when many Cook County employers are already feeling purse strings tightening, two recent actions from the Cook County Board, mirroring similar actions taken by the city of Chicago, have prompted many to worry over their impact on businesses – and particularly in suburban corners of the county, far from Chicago’s city limits.

In October, county commissioners voted 11-4-1 to mandate paid sick leave, allowing workers in the county to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. All four Republican commissioners opposed, while Stanley Moore, D-4, voted “present.”

Weeks later, the board again voted along party lines, this time 13-3-1, to gradually raise the county’s minimum wage, which currently is $8.25 an hour to $13 per hour for non-tipped employees by July 2020.

“Many people live in the suburbs because they don’t want to comply with the rules of Chicago,” said Republican Timothy Schneider, of District 15.

Cook County Board Commissioner Timothy Schneider  

“When you take those rules and extend them to the suburbs, most of the people I represent don’t like that.”

Republicans joining Schneider in opposing the measure were Gregg Goslin, 14, and Sean Morrison, 17. Republican Peter Silvestri, 9, voted “present.”

The ordinances are virtually identical to those recently passed by the Chicago City Council, and both the city’s and county’s paid sick leave mandates will go into effect the same day - July 1, 2017. The county’s minimum wage hike also will begin that day, while Chicago’s minimum wage hike, running a year ahead of the county’s schedule, will reach $13 by July 2019.

Proponents of the ordinances say they will provide uniformity for the county, specifically between Chicago and neighboring suburbs, said Frank Shuftan, the county board’s director of communications and press secretary for Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Larry Suffredin (D-13), who sponsored the minimum wage ordinance, has pointed to his own district as an example of the unequal wage opportunities between the city and burbs, Shuftan said. A Burger King employee in north suburban Evanston currently is paid less than a similar employee on the opposite side of the street in Chicago, Shuftan said.

But others struggle to see how the new ordinances will provide balance, instead believing the mandates place businesses at a competitive disadvantage to employers in neighboring counties and states.

“None of my businesses in my district supported it, none of my nonprofits, none of my villages,” said Schneider, whose district includes much of northwest suburban Cook County, including the communities of Arlington Heights, Barrington, Bartlett, Elgin, Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Mount Prospect, Rolling Meadows, Roselle, Schaumburg and Streamwood.

“I personally believe it’s going to create an unlevel playing field between Cook County and my neighboring counties. If businesses can locate on another county’s side [where these ordinances aren’t applicable], they’re going to locate there.”

The ordinances also come on the coattails of several additional policies that, collectively, limit business growth, said Michael Reever, vice president of government relations for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Along with the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, the Chicagoland Chamber opposed the county measures for months.

On a federal level, businesses have taken on the costs of the Affordable Care Act, Reever said.

On a city level, residents and businesses this year took on the largest property tax hike in modern Chicago history, which has been paid disproportionately by employers, Reever said.

At the county level, besides the new minimum wage and paid sick leave ordinances, the county recently added a beverage tax, sales tax and increased hotel tax.

“You can’t ask the employer to do both: to help the city and the county … and pay for that while also adding on these extra layer of costs,” Reever said. “It harms the economic development of our city.”

Representatives of the western suburbs are particularly frustrated with the board’s decision.

“The village [of Schaumburg] was disappointed with the lack of collaboration between Cook County and the suburbs in drafting these policies, especially since the suburbs will be greatly impacted by the County Board’s decision to enact these two initiatives,” said Allison Albrecht, communications manager for Schaumburg.

“The village has heard from business owners who are concerned about how these two measures will impact them, and the village shares the concern that Schaumburg businesses may be put at a competitive disadvantage, which could be detrimental given Schaumburg’s close proximity to DuPage County.”

Though the county’s board vote was split by party on each mandate, Schneider doesn’t think it’s a Chicago Democrat vs. Republican suburbs issue, noting each of the 17 Cook County commissioners represents roughly 310,000 residents.

“I just think they’re ill-advised in the way they represent their districts, but their districts continue to vote these [measures in],” he said of his counterparts.

Last year, Cook County’s population dropped by more than 12,000 – the largest decrease in the nation.

While a single ordinance didn’t drive out residents, mounting regulations and taxes may have forced businesses to close, which equates to lost jobs – and relocation by families.

“If you look at Lake County/Cook County, there are empty storefronts on the Cook County side,” Schneider said. “My city commissioners don’t see it every day like I do because they don’t get out to my district. They don’t see this disparity is totally squashing businesses in many of my communities.”

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series examining this topic.

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