Over catcalls of “shameful” and “cowards,” Brookfield village trustees voted 4 to 2 on June 26 to opt out of two new county laws set to go into effect July 1, which immediately would have raised the minimum wage to $10 an hour and allowed hourly workers to accrue up to five days of paid sick leave.
A crowd of about 20 people, most of them residents, implored trustees to honor the new laws, which were passed by the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 2016, and held up signs saying “protect worker and community rights” and “value Brookfield voters” as trustees explained the rationale behind their votes.
Trustees Edward Cote, Michael Garvey, David LeClere and Michelle Ryan voted to opt out. Trustees Ryan Evans and Nicole Gilhooley voted against doing so.
Many trustees agreed that the state’s $8.25 minimum wage was far too low and that even $10 might not be enough to provide a living wage to workers. But they also argued that by imposing the laws on municipalities in Cook County, unless towns voted to opt out, was a poor solution.
“I’m very much not comfortable with this,” said Ryan. “It really should be done at the state level. It may be the right thing to do, but it’s the wrong way to do it.”
That refrain became familiar for trustees voting to have Brookfield opt out of the new laws.
Cote voted to opt out despite stating that there was “no doubt in my mind that the minimum wage should be raised” and that “sick time is a no-brainer.”
But Cote doubted Cook County had the legal authority to impose the law on municipalities and predicted the courts would overturn the law, sowing more confusion down the road. Moreover, he said, giving municipalities the ability to opt out creates a competitive imbalance.
“It’s the method and precedent being set,” Cote said. “We’re pitting municipality against municipality, and it’s a bad precedent to set. Do I pass a flawed ordinance to fix a flawed situation?”
Garvey compared forcing a higher minimum wage onto employers at the county level was akin to unfunded mandates that municipal officials continually decry.
“To say we’re going to take that role … is extremely hypocritical,” said Garvey, who also dismissed the argument that Brookfield voters had overwhelmingly signaled their support for both measures in advisory referenda in 2014 and 2016.
If the village of Brookfield held an advisory referendum on alley paving, Garvey said, residents would overwhelmingly support that, too. But the village would still have no way to fund such an effort.
Evans, however, said the county had “gone about this in a terrible manner,” but that he based his decision against opting out on his experience as the child of small business owners who paid their employees a living wage as a matter of principle.
“I am fortunate that I was raised by a small business owner who believed a wage well above the minimum amount was what was right for workers, and this kept skilled and competent employees in his business,” Evans said. “I saw employees who were empowered and loved in business by earning a wage that allowed them dignity in their profession that historically paid a minimum wage.”
Evans also said workers in the family business also were allowed to take time to deal with family and personal issues.
“Seeing that impacted my personal view greatly,” Evans said.
Prior to the vote, 15 people addressed the board, all of them in support of the county laws. Many also had spoken at the village board’s committee of the whole meeting two week earlier.
Arise Chicago, a nonprofit that partners “with faith communities and workers to fight workplace injustice,” according to its website, helped organize turnouts in support of the county laws in Brookfield and other communities.
“You’re comparing the needs and wants of 80 percent of your voters, who have put you in that seat, against the 20 percent,” said Manny Diaz, member organizer for Arise Chicago in reference to the 2016 referendum on accrued sick time.
“Voters don’t forget when you take away rights.”