Crain's Chicago Business: Biz group pushes for higher minimum wage

By Greg Hinz
Crain's Chicago Business, June 21, 2017

Much of the state's business community is vehemently opposed to a bill now on its way to Gov. Bruce Rauner that would hike the state's minimum wage to $15 by 2022. But some firms are all in favor, and they're revving up a campaign to get Rauner to go along.

In a conference call today, owners of three Illinois companies, all in the consumer field where cost-cutting is particularly important, say they've learned that there are distinct advantages to them and their customers to keeping labor happy.

Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, CEO of Addison's Earth Friendly Products, which produces ecologically safe cleaning products under the Ecos brand, says her company already pays workers a minimum $17 an hour and is glad it does. Since raising its pay rate, turnover in the 300-worker firm has dropped 50 percent, and productivity is up, Vlahakis-Hanks said. "When you have turnover, there's a lot of costs."

Dan Sherry, owner of Kennedy's Creative Awards of Waukegan, said his small, 77-year-old family firm is a lot smaller than Earth Friendly Products, but has had the same experience. When he began working for the company after a stint with a bigger company, "I was trying to get away with the lowest cost," Sherry said. "When you're not paying a living wage, even if they love their job, your employees are almost forced to leave."

A third testament came form David Borris, owner of Hel's Kitchen Catering in Northbrook.

"I work in a notoriously low-wage industry, but we were able to establish a $11 wage and will go to $12 on Jan. 1," Borris said. That not only helps keeps workers but boosts "aggregate demand" as other companies follow along and people have more money to spend, he added.

"Does that mean we have to raise a price or two? Sure," said Borris, whose company has 40 full-time and 80 part-time and seasonal employees. "But that happens . . . I strongly object to the notion that a broad range of well-run businesses won't be able to handle this." ...

Today's conference call was arranged by Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, a national group ...

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