Business owners across Central and Southern Illinois say they have concerns about what a $15 per hour minimum wage increase could mean for their bottom line.
Groups say the minimum wage for cities outside of Chicago should be lower than the proposed $15. They say legislators should take into consideration that the cost of living is not the same across the state.
Karen Conn, of Conn’s Hospitality Group in Springfield and Peoria, said the current proposal could cut into work opportunities for those just starting out. “I am concerned that the state-wide $15 minimum wage will cause so much economic pain in Central Illinois, that our family will be forced to eliminate entry-level positions and the possibility of career growth.”
Other owners say they have considered moving their businesses to neighboring states or cutting hours of operation to stay open.
Don Welge of Gilster-Mary Lee, a private food label manufacturer in Chester, says he could be forced to move his Illinois plants across to Missouri or sell.
"None of us are against wage increases -- our average employees earn about $12.50 an hour which is well above the Illinois minimum" he said, "but some of those are skilled, and some of those have been with us for some time."
Welge said he and other concerned business groups support a regional approach based on cost of living.
Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said a regionalized plan has been brought up in negotiations, where the City of Chicago would have the highest minimum wage of $15 per hour, phased-in over five years. Chicago's current minimum wage is $12. He said the suburbs would reach a minimum wage of $13 per hours over seven years since they are starting out at $8.25, while downstate will have five years to reach $11.
House legislators are expected to consider the wage legislation this week, and Karr says there’s still time to meet to make changes.
The Senate approved a proposal last week that would gradually phase-in the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants the plan to reach his desk before his budget address next Wednesday, Feb. 20.