Though the Village Board unanimously signed off on a process this week for evaluating a living wage ordinance in Oak Park, some residents expressed doubts anything will come of it.
“I don’t think the outlook is good,” Tom Murtagh said during the comments period of the village board meeting. Murtagh formerly chaired the committee that first examined the issue in 2009; the Village Board ended up killing the living wage proposal in February 2010.
The memo written by Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and accepted by the board on Monday is the result of a June 16 request by board members. The discussion may have been influenced by the national discussion about a higher minimum wage.
According to a 2010 report, the living wage issue originally arose out of an April 2008 meeting at which two residents introduced a motion for a referendum. Voters approved the advisory referendum in November 2008, and the issue was sent to the Community Relations Commission for further study.
A living wage ordinance would affect three classes of employees: those who work for the village, those who work for village contractors and subcontractors, and those who have received “a significant financial subsidy from the village.”
Murtagh said one reason the ordinance failed in 2010 was that no data was made available to support the request.
“The Community Relations Commission became an exchange of opinions rather than of facts,” he told the board.
One reason he does not believe a living wage ordinance will be passed is that momentum built around the issue since 2002 has faded because of a loss of union support and funding.
Wearing a pin that said, “Living Wage=Family Value,” Tom Broderick, who also commented at the meeting, said beforehand that the commission’s failure to get the board to pass a living wage ordinance in 2010 was by design. Broderick, who said he attended all those Community Relations Commission meetings, recalled the village board president walking in and saying he didn’t want a recommendation, just a report.
“I think the attempt was to get the board off the hook from considering it,” Broderick said.
Broderick said he was surprised by the board’s resistance.
“I think there is at least a belief, a vision, that Oak Park is a caring community,” he said. “When we started this over 10 years ago, I thought this was not a big deal, that this was simple.”
However, Broderick, who has been unemployed as a printer for two years, remains hopeful. Though he doesn’t anticipate gaining employment that would be affected by a living wage ordinance, passing the ordinance is the right thing to so, he said.
“I think poverty is a problem. Having people work for a living without providing them an income to live on is a problem,” he said.
Oak Park resident William Barclay also commented on the living wage issue before the village board.
“I think at this time the burden of proof should be on those who oppose living wage,” he said.