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Interesting Report: Group Of Chicago-Area Unions & Back Bills That Would Force Large Corporations To Pay A Fine If They Don’t Pay Workers A Living Wage

Published Sunday, February 21, 2016
by In These Times via

(CHICAGO) - A group of Chicago-area Labor Unions and progressive groups are backing a bill that would punish large companies who don’t pay their Workers a Living Wage.

The Responsible Business Act (RBA) would charge corporations who employ more than 750 Cook County Workers at less than $15 per hour fees for paying what advocates call poverty-level Wages.  Since it was introduced in October last year, the act has gained the support of Unions and grassroots organizations fighting for economic justice.

Two actions in support of the proposed RBA recently took place in Cook County.  In Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, Organizing Neighborhoods for Equality: Northside, or ONE Northside, led a teach-in at their offices and canvassed outside of corporate stores.  Supporters of the RBA including IIRON and the Reclaim Campaign held an action at a Walmart store in suburban Bedford Park, just outside the city limits.

The RBA is a county-level act and is sponsored by Commissioner Robert Steele of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  It currently has three co-sponsors: Joan Patricia Murphy, Luis Arroyo, Jr. and Jerry Butler; organizers say they also have two commitments to vote “yes” from Jesus Garcia and Larry Suffredin.  Three more commissioners need to support the act in order for it to pass through the 17-member board.

Action taken last week called on 11th District Commissioner John Daley and 10th District Commissioner Bridget Gainer to back the bill.

At the canvassing event organized by ONE Northside, supporters of the RBA called for Gainer to co-sponsor the proposal.  They engaged pedestrians outside of Target, Starbucks and McDonald’s—all corporations that would potentially be affected by the RBA.

"The CEOs of these big corporations continue to make massive profits while the Workers, who are responsible for the functioning of the corporations, are forced to rely on public services to survive off their poverty wages,” said Eugene Lim, a Member of the group's Workers' Rights Team.

Commissioner Gainer did not respond to a request for comment.

The Responsible Business Act would give corporations with over 750 employees a choice: Either raise their Employees' Wages to a Living Wage – which would be determined by Cook County Chief Financial Officer Ivan Samstein at $14.57 per hour, without benefits - and $11.66 per hour with benefits - or pay a $750 fee for each dollar paid below the Hourly Living Wage per Employee.

For example, a corporation where 100 Workers earn $13.57 per hour (one dollar below the Living Wage of $14.57 per hour) would have the choice of raising their Hourly Wage by $1 for each Worker or paying a fee of $75,000 ($1 times 100 Workers, times the $750 fine).

This fee is designed to supplement the housing and child care assistance, Medicaid costs and other services out of reach for Workers earning poverty wages.

The fees would be earmarked specifically for public assistance programs and distributed by the county.

Seventy-five percent of the revenue would be placed into a newly-established Family Sustainability Fund, 20% would go to pre-existing health care spending and the remainder would be spent on administrative costs.

A nine-person commission would advise the Cook County Board of Commissioners on allocation of the collected funds.

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