DeKalb County business owners react to minimum wage hike

February 15, 2019 GMT

Some DeKalb County employers who hire seasonal help aren’t concerned about the first phase of the minimum wage hike. It’s the next phases they’re more worried about.

“It’s not next year’s increase that has us concerned,” said Amy Doll, executive director of the DeKalb Park District. “It’s looking down the road.”

Once Gov. JB Pritzker signs the bill, as soon as Tuesday, the minimum wage statewide will go up from $8.25 to $9.25 in January 2020, before it goes up to $10 an hour July 1, 2020, and up to $11 an hour Jan. 1, 2012, followed by a $1 increase every January until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

The DeKalb Park District hires about 150 seasonal workers each year, most of them for aquatics jobs, according to Mark Copple, human resources manager. Most lifeguards make more than the $8.25 minimum wage, but most of them start at $9.25, Doll said.

Doll said she’s been through a minimum wage increase before, in Champaign, where they hired workers at a lower rate and then gave them the hike when legislation dictated.

“People were really excited to get that pay bump in the middle of the summer,” she said.

She’s concerned that, while the district pays lifeguards more than, say, a pool cashier, what happens when that cashier has to make $15 in 2025?

“When minimum wage approaches $13, $14, $15 an hour, we’ll have to consider whether we continue to pay lifeguards more than the pool cashiers,” she said, adding that lifeguards need to go through training and certification. “They’re not just out there getting a tan. They’re working a job and, for our lifeguards, people’s lives are in their hands.”

The Kishwaukee Family YMCA, 2500 Bethany Road, employs 420 people, and 370 of them make less than $15 an hour, according to CEO Mark Spiegelhoff. He said the biggest pivot point, similar to that with the park district, is that $10-an-hour rate.

“That’s where the big impact will be for us,” he said, adding that the Y’s employees enjoy more than a paycheck.

“We like to think our employees at the YMCA are here for more than a paycheck,” Spiegelhoff said. “There’s intrinsic value to helping the YMCA’s mission, and helping the community.”

He, too, has gone through the previous minimum wage hike, signed in 2003 by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, keying the first step from $5.15 to $6.50 per hour, while Spiegehoff was working for the YMCA in Quincy.

He said after analysis, the Quincy Y found ways to cut back operational expenses, including purchasing and finding utility cost-savings, but that increases to program fees and membership dues were phased in over time.

“That was true of any business that was involved with that situation at the time,” Spiegelhoff said.

The bill, voted through by the Illinois House of Representatives 69-47-1 on Thursday, after sailing through the Senate, included negotiations by park districts. They didn’t get grand exemptions, but workers younger than 18 who work fewer than 650 hours a year for an employer will have a different pay-scale increase: $8 per hour Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020, before going up to $8.50 an hour Jan. 1, 2012, up to $9.25 an hour Jan. 1, 2022, up to $10.50 an hour Jan. 1, 2023, then $12 an hour Jan. 1, 2024, and up to $13 an hour Jan. 1, 2025.

NIU and Kishwaukee College have declined to comment on the legislature, or on how many employees will be affected. A voicemail left for Dan Gibble, executive director of the Sycamore Park District, has not yet been returned.

Tom Inboden, owner of Inboden’s Gourmet Meats & Specialty Foods, 1106 N. First St., DeKalb, said he’ll be required to give about 15 of his 55 employees a pay raise in January.

“That’s mostly college kids, part-time,” Inboden said.

He pointed out that a factor that’s driving such changes is the burden being placed on college graduates by tuition rates and financial aid.

He said he’s ready to adjust over time.

“We’ve been through it before, but not quite at these levels,” he said, adding that he’s had a great run employing Northern Illinois University students. “We’ve had a lot of great young guys from the school of engineering – very smart, very bright.”

He said one of the biggest issues for his business is hiring people willing to put in the physical work.

“Other places might not be as labor-intensive, so it might not be as much of an adjustment for them,” he said.