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Minimum wage

Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, speaks during a news conference Monday in Springfield about his organization’s opposition to a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. Karr and other IRMA members warned of layoffs, closures and other consequences of the increase and advocated for a lower minimum rate downstate than in Chicago.

SPRINGFIELD — A group of downstate business owners on Monday warned of dire consequences should a $15-per-hour minimum wage that passed the Senate last week become law without changes.

Several members of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association spoke of layoffs, businesses leaving the state and cutbacks in staff benefits, while advocating for a plan that would make the minimum wage rate $4 lower per hour in downstate counties than in Chicago.

“Treating the rest of the state as if it has the same strengths as Chicago is simply illogical,” Rob Karr, IRMA’s president and CEO, said. “No one else has 55 million visitors a year.”

Karr said two-thirds of Illinois’ population is within a 40-minute drive of bordering states, which could cause shoppers to spend their money elsewhere. Don Welge, president and CEO of Gilster-Mary Lee, a food manufacturer headquartered in Chester, said businesses will begin doing the same.

“It’s just an open invitation to move operations out of the state of Illinois,” Welge said.

Welge said Illinois already has higher workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance rates than surrounding states, costing $600 more per employee annually than in Missouri.

“Everything we’ve opened up recently has been in Missouri,” he said. “We started in Illinois. We have a lot of loyalty to the state of Illinois, but we can begin to move and we will begin to move.”

As it is written now, Senate Bill 1 would raise the statewide minimum wage, now $8.25 per hour, to $15 per hour over a six-year period, starting with a $1 increase in January 2020, then a 75-cent increase in July 2020, bringing the wage up to $10. Another dollar would be added to the wage every January until 2025.

The group said it was not against raising the wage, but the current structure — particularly the increase of $2.75 in the first calendar year — was too steep and too quick.

They argued for a regional alternative — a $15 rate in Chicago within five years, a $13 rate in the suburbs within seven years and an $11 rate for downstate communities within five years.

But state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, Senate Bill 1’s sponsor in the House, said last week he expects his chamber to pass the bill without further amendment.

“All of us in the House, or at least all of us on the Democratic side in the House, are working to get this done,” he said. “I anticipate us having discussions about the bill that was sent to us, and I suspect that that’s the bill we are going to vote on and I think that’s the bill we will pass.”

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat who ushered the bill’s passage in the Senate, had questioned the constitutionality of a regional rollout and said all Illinois workers deserve equal pay for equal work.

“How do you decide that someone down in Danville, who needs to make $14.60 today, how do you tell them that they should be held lower than $15 in 2025?” she asked in her floor speech during the bill’s passage last week.

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