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A Fair Work Week ordinance that assures specific workers’ rights is expected to be presented to the city’s Economic Development Committee at its June 22 meeting.

The next step would be submitting it to the full council for approval.

But during its recent meeting, May 31, committee members spoke in support of the ordinance, modeled after the one in Chicago.

Chicago fast food workers in Chicago, during a 2013 walkout for fairer wages and conditions. Credit: Daniel X. O'Neil, Creative Commons

Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, had referred the ordinance to committee, asking city staff to find a fair standard labor ordinance for workers at large corporate retail and food establishments.

“This is about treating people fairly and giving them dignity of worth,” said Reid, at the meeting.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development manager, wrote in a memo to the committee that the Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance seemed to fit that bill. It “requires certain employers to provide workers with predictable work schedules and compensation for changes.

“Employees are covered by the ordinance if they work in one of seven ‘covered’ industries [building services, healthcare, hotels, manufacturing, restaurants, retail and warehouse services], earn less than or equal to $26/hour or earn less than or equal to $50,000/year, and the employer has at least 100 employees globally (250 employees and 30 locations for a restaurant),” he wrote.

Zalmezak said covered employees would be given:

  • Advance notice of their work schedule;
  • The right to decline previously unscheduled hours;
  • One hour of predictability pay for any shift change within 10 days, and
  • The right to rest by declining work that begins fewer than 10 hours after the end of the previous day’s shift.

Reid, who chaired the committee meeting, said research on the Chicago ordinance, which took effect for most employers July 1, 2020, shows it “helps …  workers, that it’s good for creating continuity across the region.”

For workers, he said, “Let’s say you’re going to work 40 hours next week, and your employer takes away those hours. They’re required to pay you at the same rate [for] those hours. to ensure you’re not totally missing out. If you’re called in on a day off, you have to be compensated [at] higher rates for being called in on their day off with less than 24 hours’ notice.”

The nine-member committee, which is mandated to have six council members, one Zoning Board of Appeals members and two citizens-at-large, seemed to respond well.

Council member Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, offered, “I think it’s a great idea.” She said the city should follow Chicago’s example, and that way “we won’t get pushback from our major employers or large ones, because they’re already having to do it.”

Council member Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, said he also loved the idea. However, he said he would like to hear from business owners in his ward. 

Council member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, asked why smaller businesses were exempted, noting that it wasn’t the case with the Cook County minimum-wage ordinance, which Evanston adopted in 2017.

“Because if something is unfair to a certain group of people, it’s unfair,” he said. “We shouldn’t allow it.”

Reid said he personally agreed with that viewpoint. In this case, he said his willingness to support exempting small businesses derives from “the sense that mom-and-pop shops tend to be a bit more flexible naturally with their employees.”

He said while that may be anecdotal and not necessarily correct, “I think there’s more of that human element, rather than the larger corporations, where you’re a cog” in a bigger operation.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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