Jobs & Living Wage Setback

Payback Time in 99

Spoiler alert: Chicago did eventually get a Living Wage Ordinance of sorts. The instructive part of this episode is that a majority of the City Council had signed on as co-sponsors of the ordinance. This was originally published in New Ground 54, September– October, 1997.

by Bob Roman

Everyone thought the deed had been done a week earlier. That was when the Chicago City Council Finance Committee voted, 8 to 17 with 10 “no shows”, to recommend against passage of the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance.

Conventional wisdom said that was the end of it. The measure would be buried at the next Council meeting, July 30, probably without even the dignity of a formal consideration or a roll call. Reporters wrote their stories in advance around the other business of consequence, the Ethics Ordinance; this is, after all, the City that Works, though for whom is a question rarely asked.

Conventional wisdom reckoned without the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Campaign. Organized by Chicago ACORN under the auspices of Chicago Jobs with Justice, the Campaign brings together some 80 labor, political, advocacy and service organizations including Chicago DSA.

On Wednesday, July 30th, the Campaign brought together over 200 people at City Hall to demand an accounting. The City Council was scheduled to meet. Some 36 of the 50 aldermen had signed on to supporting the Ordinance. It should pass if considered honestly.

But 200 people in the lobby and the hallway outside the Council Chambers must have seemed like the start of the French Revolution to the Establishment in City Hall. They quickly barred the doors to the Council, without even the traditional courtesy of packing the Chamber with City employees; the Chamber was nearly empty.

The rabble wasn’t having it. “Open the dooooor, Richard!”, the crowd sang, and they pounded upon the doors and the walls of the Chamber in time.

The police were not amused. John Donahue, Madeline Talbott, Maggie Laslo, Diane Lovett, Jon Green and Mike Stewart were arrested. This was news! Reporters went scrambling to revise their stories.

Supporters on the City Council were also active. While (predictably) the Ordinance itself did not come to a vote, a motion to table the motion to discharge the Ordinance from Committee was voted upon. Supporters succeeded in having a roll call vote, losing 17 – 31 – 2.

Because the Committee report was never actually voted upon, the Ordinance haunts the Council agenda. As New Ground goes to press, another demonstration is planned for the next Council meeting, September 10. In a counter move, the initial hearing for those arrested July 30th was rescheduled to September 10. And the Living Wage Campaign is suing the City for violating the Open Meetings Act.

In the mean time, two more cities have joined the ranks of those municipalities having a Living Wage ordinance: Duluth and Boston. And in Chicago, it ain’t over ’til we win.

Author: rmichaelroman

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