By CARL GREEN
East St. Louis – A $15 minimum hourly wage in Illinois wouldn’t just help the working-class people who would receive it, but businesses throughout the state that would find new customers with money to spend, says the legislator leading the push for the increase.
“Businesses need consumers,” said Representative Will Guzzardi, lead sponsor of House Bill 198, who visited East St. Louis as part of a statewide tour to promote the legislation.
“Your businesses are only going to be as prosperous as you have consumers to buy your goods,” Guzzardi said.
“If you’re running a grocery store, a shop or restaurant, you need people with money in their pockets to go shop. When people spend all of their money on rent and power bills, and that’s all they can do, it’s going to be really difficult to start and operate a business.
“By putting money in the pockets of working people, that money’s going to get circulated in the economy and it’s going to lift our small businesses in our communities.”
Guzzardi, of Chicago, spoke at a press conference at the East St. Louis Public Library April 20 along with members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-Healthcare Illinois and Representative Latoya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis), an early co-sponsor of the bill. The measure had 23 co-sponsors last week, all Democrats.
HB 198 would raise the minimum in stages, not reaching $15 until 2022, to give employers time to adjust.
Illinois’ minimum wage, now set at $8.25 an hour would increase to $9 next year, $10 in 2019, $11.25 in 2020, $13 in 2021 and $15 in 2022. Tax credits would be issued to help employers of less than 50 people meet the threshold.
“What we’ve heard in city after city is that every community needs $15 an hour,” Guzzardi said. “It’s a basic, decent standard of living, no matter what corner of the state you live in. In Illinois, 2.3 million people make less than $15 an hour. Every single one of those people deserves a raise.”
STRUGGLING TO GET BY
Fazio Beverly, a Metro East home health care worker, said she had to give up a better-paying job when her parents were sick and needed her care. She now makes $10 an hour caring for two needy clients and struggling to support her six adopted children, most of whom have special needs.
“I had to go from making a good salary to $10 an hour,” she said, noting that one of her clients is bed-bound. “I get up every day, I go and dress her and get her breakfast ready. Some days I have to take her to her doctor out in Creve Coeur. I get a lot of wear and tear on my vehicle.”
Beverly said she makes $30 a day for that client, but spends more than that on gas and maintenance for her car.
“Giving us $15 an hour isn’t going to get us rich, it isn’t going to put us on a level with Trump or Rauner, but it will help us offset some of the expense we endure of being home health care providers or trying to help others who need us,” Beverly said.
Greenwood, the state representative from East St. Louis, said Beverly’s story is common for home health care workers throughout the state. Paying those workers $15 an hour, she said, “is the humane thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.
“I’m very proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation,” Greenwood said.
Guzzardi said it’s a matter of economic justice.
“We know that something’s broken in the American economy right now when we have the Donald Trumps and Bruce Rauners of the world making more money than they’ve ever made, and everybody else is struggling to get by,” he said.
“Incomes are staying flat, people aren’t getting raises, and meanwhile, the cost of everything goes up. The cost of food, the cost of housing, the cost of education, it’s all rising. Families in every corner of this state and every part of this country are struggling to get by.”
A BUDGET BOOST
Illinois’ beleaguered state budget would get a boost from the bill, Guzzardi said, because higher wages paid to working people would go back into the economy, increasing the state’s income and sales tax revenue, and reducing the need for public assistance.
“It’s good for working people, it’s good for business, it’s good for state government,” Guzzardi said. “This is the kind of investment we need to make right now.”
Guzzardi and Greenwood are confident the bill will pass the state House and Senate, but could be vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.
“We’ll see if he sides with the 2.3 million working people who will get a raise from this bill or if he sides with the big corporations,” Guzzardi said. “I think that will be a very telling moment.”