A champion of the minimum wage increase?
  • Al Podgorski/Sun-Times Media
  • A champion of the minimum wage increase?

When you head to the polls in February, Mayor Emanuel is hoping you’ll think of him as a man of the people. You know, rather than the guy who closed all those public schools and mental health clinics while managing to scrape together the money to build a sports arena and a Marriott hotel. And certainly not as the guy who was silent on increasing the minimum wage in Chicago until plans started developing at the state level, and publicly undercut Governor Quinn by 75 cents when the governor was fighting to get reelected.

Nah. Just remember he’s the one who increased the minimum wage.

In case you want to know what actually happened, we put together a timeline that details Rahm’s conveniently timed evolution on the issue.

May 10, 2011: A few days before he’s sworn in as mayor, Rahm Emanuel releases “Chicago 2011,” a 71-page list of goals for his first term. It includes 16 proposals to promote the city’s economic health, including cutting business taxes, but does not mention worker pay or the minimum wage.

February 6, 2013: Governor Quinn, facing low approval ratings, endorses a proposal by some legislators and labor groups to raise the Illinois minimum wage from $8.25 to at least $10 an hour over the next four years. The General Assembly never acts on the proposals. Emanuel doesn’t comment.

February 12, 2013: In the state of the union address, President Obama urges Congress to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. He makes the case again the next day during a stop in Chicago, where he’s accompanied by Emanuel. The mayor doesn’t discuss the wage proposal.

May 9, 2013: A few weeks after Emanuel decides to close 49 schools, a poll by the Chicago Tribune finds his approval ratings dropping to 50 percent—and his disapproval ratings climbing to 40 percent.

October 15, 2013: Hundreds of community leaders and progressive activists gather for a “Take Back Chicago” rally at UIC. Among their goals: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Quinn is cheered when he promises to work to boost the wage statewide. Emanuel, who’s not at the event, is ripped for school closings and privatization plans.

December 16, 2013: A coalition of community groups gets enough signatures to put a nonbinding referendum item on the March ballot in 20 wards: Should employers with more than $50 million in revenues pay a wage of $15 an hour? More than 86 percent of voters say yes. “Through all of that there was no response from City Hall,” says Amisha Patel, executive director of the Grassroots Collaborative, one of the groups behind the initiative.

January 7, 2014: Video surfaces of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner declaring that he’d like to cut the state’s minimum wage to $7.25 an hour. After being blasted for the remarks, Rauner waffles, eventually saying he supports a wage hike as long as it’s accompanied by limits to workers’ compensation claims.

February 4, 2014: The mayor decides to make his own headlines for backing the minimum wage. Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed quotes an unnamed mayoral aide saying that Emanuel has already drafted an ordinance to raise the minimum wage in Chicago to $9.25 an hour. The ordinance would reportedly be introduced if Congress and state legislators don’t act over the next few months.

February 5, 2014: Alderman John Arena, a mayoral critic, sponsors a City Council resolution calling on the Illinois General Assembly to raise the state minimum wage to $10.65 over four years. Mayor Emanuel sponsors a different resolution supporting President Obama’s proposal for raising the federal minimum wage to $9. Both are nonbinding and both pass, but only Emanuel’s gets coverage in the national media.

May 20, 2014: Emanuel names a “Minimum Wage Working Group” charged with recommending a “balanced plan” for raising the minimum wage in Chicago. The mayor makes it clear that he intends to boost the wage regardless of the group’s findings. “I don’t think the question was whether there would be an increase,” says Alderman Joe Moore, one of the members of the group. “It was how much it would be and how it was going to be implemented.”

May 28, 2014: Alderman Arena—along with colleagues Joe Moreno (1st) and Roderick Sawyer (6th)—introduces an ordinance that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour over four years. Seventeen other aldermen sign on as cosponsors. Still, the proposal is sent to die in the City Council’s committee on workforce development, which is chaired by Pat O’Connor, the mayor’s floor leader and closest council ally.

July 7, 2014: The mayor’s task force recommends lifting the minimum wage to $13 an hour in Chicago by 2018. The group also suggests waiting until the General Assembly acts on a statewide increase after the November elections.

July 14, 2014: The Sun-Times releases the results of a poll suggesting trouble for Emanuel’s reelection bid, as he trails potential challengers Toni Preckwinkle and Karen Lewis. A month later, a Tribune poll finds that the mayor’s approval rating has plummeted to 35 percent.

July 30, 2014: Emanuel proposes an ordinance that would phase in a city minimum wage of $13 an hour by 2018. Twenty-four aldermen sign on as cosponsors.

Meanwhile, Alderman Tom Tunney—who owns the Ann Sather restaurant chain—calls for a council hearing to discuss how to raise the wage statewide. His resolution warns that “establishing a higher minimum wage for the City of Chicago versus the rest of the State of Illinois would lead to a cutback in hiring and a reduction of jobs for City businesses.” It goes nowhere.

November 4, 2014: More than 66 percent of Illinois voters vote yes on a nonbinding ballot question asking if the state minimum wage should be raised to $10 an hour.

November 28, 2014: On the day after Thanksgiving, Mayor Emanuel calls a special City Council meeting for the following Tuesday to enact his minimum wage proposal. Some aldermen say the mayor broke city law by failing to provide enough advance notice. The mayor says he had to act quickly because state legislators could enact a law that keeps Chicago’s wage below $13 an hour. But no bills in Springfield actually contain that language.

December 1, 2014: The City Council’s workforce development committee signs off on the mayor’s plan as Governor-elect Rauner urges Chicago not to act on its own. The mayor shrugs him off.

December 2, 2014: Emanuel introduces a new version of his ordinance that would raise the wage to $13 an hour by 2019, a year later than he’d proposed a day before. The full City Council approves it by a 44-5 vote.

Alderman Arena is among the supporters. He notes that when the mayor first called for raising the city’s wage, he pushed $9.25 an hour. “We feel like the victory is that we brought the mayor to a much better place,” Arena says. He and other progressives—including mayoral challengers Robert Fioretti and Jesus “Chuy” Garcia—say they’ll keep pressing for $15 an hour.

Meanwhile, in Springfield, house speaker Michael Madigan decides not to call the minimum wage bill for a vote, saying it doesn’t have enough support. Some legislators blame Chicago’s new wage law—and Emanuel’s zeal to enact it.

But the mayor describes the city’s new wage in Utopian terms: “A higher minimum wage ensures that nobody who works in the City of Chicago will ever struggle to reach the middle class or be forced to raise their child in poverty.”

This post has been updated to reflect that the proposal on May 28, 2014, was introduced by three aldermen.