In one of the clearest breaks yet from the city’s big business groups, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s signature plan to increase paid time off for Chicago workers has cleared the City Council.
Over the objections of organizations representing restaurants, safety net hospitals and hotels, aldermen voted 36-12 Thursday to double the city’s current paid leave mandate to 10 days.
Johnson and progressive allies hailed the legislation as a compromise that still makes Chicago’s leave requirements the most expansive in the country, allowing workers to accrue both sick time taken during a personal or family illness and paid time off that can be taken for any reason. Backers say additional access to time off helps with employee retention and reduces turnover and training costs for businesses.
At a news conference after the vote, Johnson said the passage of the ordinance stands as “a value statement that says that here in Chicago, we believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to take care of themselves, their loved ones, to do it without the burden of financial instability.”
“We are enacting progressive policies that will ultimately attract the best talent, because we are unlocking Chicago’s greatest potential,” Johnson said. “Our greatest potential is people.”
Compared with the initial proposal introduced to the council, the one that passed reduces the maximum number of days off from 15 down to 10, exempts small businesses from having to pay out unused PTO to exiting employees, and delays the date when workers could sue their employers over violations.
The ordinance goes into effect at the end of December.
Some business representatives, including the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Business Leadership Council and the Chatham Business Association, have jumped on in support of the package.
Worker advocacy groups and the city’s major labor unions also back it, saying the changes also raise the floor for employees engaged in collective bargaining.
But major business trade organizations such as the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Restaurant Association said the new rules would only make the city’s business climate harsher. They cited the passage of two of Johnson’s progressive priorities as adding to their woes: the impending phaseout of lower tipped wages for restaurant workers and the potential hike in real estate transfer tax on more expensive properties if voters approve the Bring Chicago Home proposal in March.
In a statement after Thursday’s meeting, a coalition of those business groups said the vote “cemented Chicago’s status as a hostile place for employers of every size and sector to do business and continued their direction of discouraging economic development, investment, and job growth in the communities that need it most.”
Aldermen twice halted recent votes on the paid leave proposal to voice their misgivings.
A committee vote on the ordinance was paused after members of the Black Caucus expressed concerns that Black businesses would be financially crippled by a provision requiring payouts of unused PTO, which were later assuaged by exempting employers with 50 or fewer workers. It then passed the workforce committee 13-2 earlier this month.
Other aldermen still opposed to the proposal used a parliamentary maneuver Tuesday to delay a final City Council vote until Thursday. Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly, one of the ordinance’s staunchest opponents, also attempted to insert language giving employers 30 days to fix violations before workers would be allowed to go to court. He was shut down.
Ahead of the vote, Reilly warned that Chicago must grow jobs and its tax base, not the opposite, because “if we head down that spiral, we’re not far off from being Detroit.”
“The business community can only absorb so much at once,” Reilly, 42nd, said. “And I understand that there is a lot of enthusiasm among members, some members for your agenda, Mr. President, and I respect that, but we’re really piling on the business community right now.”
While Johnson has tried to burnish his reputation as a unifying figure, Thursday’s vote signals a clear division between him and the business community. On this issue, the mayor insisted that while the details of the proposal were negotiable, an expansion of workers’ rights was not.
Since the measure passed in the workforce committee, pushback has continued: The city’s major restaurant groups signed an open letter in opposition. In a Nov. 5 letter to the mayor, the Association of Safety-Net Community Hospitals claimed the additional cost would force Chicago hospitals that care for the most vulnerable “to make the incredibly difficult decision to either find new revenues from the state of Illinois to cover this cost, or to reduce staff and eliminate services.”