Minimum wage hike could hurt workers with disabilities, says president of Ray Graham Association
Kim Zoeller wishes lawmakers in Springfield doggedly pushing for a minimum wage increase would see the same big picture she does.
“We won’t weigh in one way or the other on if the proposed minimum wage increase is good for the state,” Zoeller, president and CEO of Ray Graham Association, a non-for-profit organization that “works to create opportunities for people with disabilities,” told the DuPage Policy Journal. “But if this is what the state really wants, it needs to be all the way in."
By that, Zoeller explained, she means state lawmakers need to consider all the ways Senate Bill 081 would change life for many, not just minimum wage workers.
“While we receive funding from the state, there is no mechanism in our contract that increases our rate to pay for things,” she added. “Going hand and hand with that is we’ve been in a situation where we have not received any cost-of-doing-business increase with the state for over a decade now. We have the ability to raise support staff wages, so we’ve seen minimum wage go up and our wages stay the same. It’s left us having major difficulty recruiting and keeping staff, and that issue will only get greater now.”
Led by overwhelming Democratic majorities in Springfield, on Feb. 14 lawmakers hammered through a bill that calls for the minimum wage to reach $15 per hour by 2025, with speculation running rampant that Gov. J.B. Pritzker will almost certainly sign off on it sooner rather than later after House members voted to advance it to his desk by a 69-47 tally.
If the bill becomes law, by Jan. 1, the state minimum wage will officially increase to $9.25, followed by gradual increases over each of the next five years. Since 2010, the minimum wage in Chicago has stayed at $12 an hour, compared with $8.25 for the state and $11 for Cook County.
Throughout the most recent process, downstate lawmakers fought long and hard to keep the increases from applying statewide.
With Illinois now poised to become one of the first states in the country to enforce a $15-per-hour mandate, Zoeller said, she now wants to see the General Assembly completely close the deal.
“We’ve already been living a crisis by not being able to recruit and retain qualified staff,” she said. "Our staff is the lifeline for many of the people this legislation is designed to help, and we believe if we don’t have a scale different from minimum wage things are only going to get worse in terms of recruitment. The thought of that frightens (us). Leadership in the state needs to be ready to finance the rest of deal to make sure no one is damaged.”