Mallinckrodt Community Center (Wood Floor Room)
Meeting started at 7:05 p.m. and ended at 8:51 p.m. (1 hour, 46 minutes)
Present: John Jacoby, Michael Braioman, John Prenzer, Laura Saleh, Therese Steinken, John Haser. Brian Fabes arrived at 7:06. George Rafeedie and Beth Lambrecht were absent. It was a very snowy night.
The village invited Adam Kader from Arise Chicago, an employee advocacy group, to provide insight into the effectiveness of surveying employees. He expressed concerns about the village doing so. All in the group besides Mr. Haser decided not to survey employees because concerns about low-wage employee intimidation leading to employer-biased results outweighed the benefit of making employees in Wilmette feel that their voices are heard. The group felt that existing studies and data from IDES and other sources would be preferable to an unscientific small-scale survey.
The first part of the meeting was to decide whether or not the working group should survey employees. Chairman John Jacoby invited Adam Kader from Arise Chicago was invited to sit at the table with the working group and to speak first. Mr. Kader had previously spoken with Assistant Village Manager Mike Braiman by phone and provided the working group with studies and other guidance.
Mr. Kader explained that Arise Chicago has been around since 1991 and represents low-wage workers typically resulting from employer legal violations and coordinantes a network of supportive interfaith organizations. He said that Arise has participated in a number of research projects including with universities.
He stated that surveys are only useful if scientifically conducted and with a sufficient sample size, and that employees are typically hard to reach. He explained that Arise Chicago has been able to get information from employees because they have had a long relationship of advocating for them and have established their trust. They had also ensured that study participants were compensated for their time.
Mr. Kader further added that the risks for an employee to participate included the undeniable asymmetrical power relationship between employers and employees. An employer has nothing to lose by participating, but the employee has everything to lose, and this threat, whether real or perceived is the primary consideration of employees. He suggested that a poorly executed survey could be damaging or distort the views of the most vulnerable workforce.
He went on to suggest that any effort to understand workers that had integrity would pay attention to the existing body of comprehensive research. He suggested we could easily extrapolate based on Wilmette’s data the village has collected, subscription services, and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.) Chair Jacoby interjected with a laugh that Mr. Kader’s suggestion that the village be a source is overestimated.
Mr. Braiman asked which industries are key to understanding low wage workers. Arise offered service industries more than production or professional and that the Kaiser Family Foundation offers relevant publicly available data.
Mr. Kader said Arise advocated primarily for sick leave policy in Chicago because most of the benefits are beneficial for both employers and employees.
Resident Gail Szulc asked if the ordinances would be applied to every business, for example landscapers, maids, and babysitters. Chair Jacoby went over the basics of each county ordinance. Mr. Kader added that an employer employee relationship must exist for the ordinances to apply, and that an independent contractor, for example a babysitter, is not an employee, but that a domestic worker is an employee.
Resident Dennis Arouca wanted to know if the residences of people working in Wilmette is going to be collected. Mr. Fabes answered that IDES data shows that lower wage workers typically come from outside Wilmette to work in the village and that higher wage workers residing in Wilmette leave to work outside the village.
Resident Dr. Diana Hackbarth wanted to know if low-wage workers testified in Chicago during the ordinances’ passage. Mr. Kader answered that there were testimonies and that 100% were without sick days. She posited that workers in Chicago would be similar enough to Wilmette and that it might be better to use existing interviews.
Chair Jacoby wondered why Wilmette workers would be intimidated if Chicago ones were not. Adam reminded him that they already had established relationships and added that it should already be self-evident that workers support sick leave and higher pay.
Mr. Fabes asked Mr. Kader if there are downsides to performing a survey of employees.
Mr. Kader responded with a story when an employer asserted that they employed no minimum-wage workers, but that the Chicago Tribune had investigated and found several. He said he was really concerned about the danger to employees.
Mr. Fabes wanted to avoid posing speculative questions to employees, such as how they are impacted by low wages. Mr. Kader responded that it is already obvious how they would be affected.
Ms. Steinken asked if they could keep the survey basic and to one page, and if there was something they could ask that couldn’t come from other sources.
Mr. Kader suggested asking how workers would use the extra money. Would they spend it locally? He explained that service workers tend to spend more when they have more disposable income.
Mr. Fabes said that these were speculative questions.
Resident Joan Lasonde asked how many employees we are talking about. Mr. Fabes said about 1,000. Ms. Lasonde suggested we survey the employers, and Chair Jacoby explained that the working group has been discussing during the meeting whether or not to continue with the employee survey in particular, and that the decisions to survey employers had already been made along with surveying residents, other communities, and so forth. Ms. Lasonde responded that it was a good point that to be fair, if we’re going to survey the employees, we should also survey the business owners. Chair Jacoby reiterated that the village is surveying the employers and that it was the employee survey that was being discussed.
Mr. Fabes added that the surveying of employees was being discussed was that it was suggested during the prior meeting that to be fair to employees, they should be surveyed if employers were surveyed. And that the working group is now hearing from a labor advocate that surveying them may do more harm than good, and that we should instead look at existing research. Mr. Kader added that the risks and benefits for participation are drastically different for employers and employees.
Resident Jeannie Kennedy expressed strong concern about asking employees very personal questions about their finances that we would never consider asking employers. She said it affords employees less respect than employers.
Chair Jacoby suggested turning around Ms. Kennedy’s concern, that maybe employers’ profit margins is material information that shouldn’t be overlooked. Ms. Kennedy suggested employers probably wouldn’t respond to such questions. Chair Jacoby responded that employees may not. Ms. Kennedy concluded: “then why ask the questions?”
Mr. Fabes said that after checking, there are about 1,300 low-wage workers in Wilmette. Ms. Lasonde asked about their demographics. Mr. Fabes said that most are not youth, the vast majority are adult age. Chair Jacoby concurred. Mr. Kader added that there is a common misperception of teens being the primary minimum wage earners, which may have been the case when some of us were younger, but in 2018 it’s primarily adults.
He added that the highest job growth is in minimum wage jobs in the service industry. He added that there is a lot of research to show that these wages are no longer a stepping stone to higher earnings, and that 33 is the median age of a minimum-wage worker. Mr. Kader said that some of their dishwashers have been working at minimum wage for 20 years.
Dr. Hackbarth expressed concern about an employer handing their employee a survey. Mr. Kader said that the only way to reach employees is to approach them, that it is very difficult to find workers, and that posting a survey online doesn’t give a control group.
Chair Jacoby recognized the lack of scientific validity, and that we should assume employers and employees will be honest. He proposed employers post a notice to visit a survey website, but later agreed with Mr. Kader that this may prove difficult for low-wage workers.
Ms. Lasonde asked given that there are 1,300 low-wage employees, how many employers there are in Wilmette. Mr. Braiman answered about 565 employers, and about 6,500 total workers.
Mr. Braiman suggested there should be a clear purpose to the survey and asked Mr. Kader what that might be.
Mr. Kader answered that perhaps personal stories might provide a useful narrative about what the policies would mean to them. Otherwise, existing studies would be sufficient.
Chair Jacoby said that there is value in making employees feel they’ve been heard.
Mr. Arouca asked if Wilmette doesn’t adopt the minimum wage increase and neighboring communities do, how will it impact the quality of workers that come to Wilmette?
Mr. Kader said that the opt-out initiative puts citizens in a very unfortunate position to have to decide on the wages of 1,300 employees, when wages shouldn’t be set at the municipal level in the first place, that it is appropriately performed at the county level.
Chair Jacoby said that over time either the employers raise wages, or employees will migrate to higher-paying neighbors.
Laura Saleh said she’d like to be the devil’s advocate as a small-business owner. She said that some of the people she employed don’t get a full sick leave policy. She added that those people are stay at home moms who are looking to do something and are working a day or two a week. She said that they don’t need the sick time. She continued, saying that they are financially secure enough to not be paid the four-week sick pay period per year, or whatever it is. She added that in speaking to other business owners, she thinks there is a fair contingency of those people in Wilmette. She said these people aren’t looking to be paid what they, they’re looking for enrichment, socializing, extra money in their pocket, but not looking to get rich.
Chair Jacoby responded by asking her where that leads her on whether or not to conduct an employee survey. Ms. Saleh responded that if we’re going to do it, we should consider those people, and not eliminate all those questions that don’t give you the true answer. She added, “The difference between a 42-year-old who has three children and can’t make ends meet versus a 42-year-old here who is doing it, yes, for some money. Let’s face it, we all work for some money, or we would volunteer.”
Resident Dave Krias [sic] said that if most businesses are restaurants, employees are not working from home. He said that when companies are operating on a thin margin, is that the employees’ fault or the business owners’ fault? Maybe the rent is too high or there are other factors?
Mr. Kader pointed out that sick days are earned incrementally based on the number of hours they work, so infrequent workers will not earn much sick time.
Ms. Saleh responded that some people work for her for ten years and that it’s a lot of calculations to be doing for someone.
Mr. Fabes said there are two reasons to survey employees: in order to appear fair and in order to make employees feel heard.
Ms. Lasonde asked how much the survey would cost. Chair Jacoby said it’s not a big number, that it was proposed to give surveys to employers and post online.
Ms. Steinken suggested having an open forum and invite any employees who would like to come to get their opinions anonymously along with interpreters.
Dr. Hackbarth said that in order to get unbiased data, this would have to be a focus group performed by a research firm so that it could be done in a safe place and that the participants would need to be paid. She said that during Wilmette’s introduction of a smoking ban, some people were pushed by their employers to oppose it, and that few employees were comfortable stepping forward publicly but would acknowledge their support privately.
Mr. Braiman said that a focus group would be possible, the village has performed them in the past for other issues, and it costs about $8,000 including a transcript.
Mr. Arouca said there are state agencies that conduct elections in workplaces, and we could ask them for advice.
Chair Jacoby said the group needs to decide whether to perform the employee survey, drop it, or do something intermediate and expressed his initial support for an intermediate solution. He wanted to know if the group were pushed into intermediate position, what kind of employee study would be performed.
Mr. Fabes asked what are we hoping to get that IDES won’t already give us?
Chair Jacoby said there were two possibilities: testimonials, real-life Wilmette employees telling their story as well as demographic data. Mr. Haser added the survey would make employees feel included. He said that the group would be assuming that both employees and employers will be cheating, and that no matter what, it isn’t going to be a true scientific study. Chair Jacoby concurred.
Mr. Fabes suggested we collect already available data and determine what is missing. He suggested asking employees how they would prefer to be heard. He expressed concern about conducting an unscientific survey and then extrapolating from it.
Mr. Kader said he thinks it would be a waste of time.
Chair Jacoby then said he now thinks the employee survey should be dropped, Ms Steinken concurred that it is impractical, but wished employees would be able to have a voice. Chair Jacoby said that Chicago employee testimonies should be examined, especially given that most employees don’t live in Wilmette.
All members voted to drop the employee survey except for Mr. Haser.
Mr. Braiman said that determining questions for and surveying of residents will happen in late March or early April and that it will be a random sampling of 300 Wilmette residents. He said the employer survey will begin this week including an online link, and that the mailed surveys should be sent the following week.
Chair Jacoby directed the discussion to which sick-day studies to recommend that the board consider.
Mr. Fabes said that they should figure out the main questions that should be answered for the trustees. 1. Who are the workers? 2. What is the cost of providing paid sick leave? 3. What is the increase in cost to employers if employees cheat by taking sick days when healthy? 4. What is the cost of administering? 5. What is the benefit to general public? 6. What is the benefit to employees?
Ms. Steinken wanted to ask about the benefits to employers. Chair Jacoby concurred, but Mr. Haser said he wasn’t sure. Chair Jacoby said it will be included for now.
Dr. Hackbarth said that there definitely should be a question about the benefits to employers because there is existing data to demonstrate this. She added that question five is instrumental to ask what it means to who we are as people to say we buy into treating people of all socioeconomic statuses equitably.
Chair Jacoby suggested this would be answered by the resident survey. Mr. Haser said that questions five and six would be fairer if you the questions were worded to ask about the benefit and/or disadvantage. The group decided to change the word “advantage” to “impact” without objection.
Next the group decided to try to match the studies to the questions. Printed information wasn’t available for the public to follow along and were directed to pull up the electronic PDFs if possible. Chair Jacoby asked the group to describe the materials for those who didn’t have access to the information.
Mr. Fabes proceeded to lead discussion to match available sick-leave studies up to each of the questions. Mr. Braiman added at one point that he wanted to avoid fact sheets because they’re created by advocacy groups and that they should stick to studies. Everyone concurred.
Ms. Steinken asked if there were studies that showed negative benefits. Mr. Fabes said that type of data is found in minimum wage studies, Chair Jacoby concurred and added that it’s because the cost of sick leave is between under 1% to 1.5%. Mr. Fabes suggested that this is because minimum wage increases the cost of labor more significantly.
Chair Jacoby suggested omitting studies because they was old, but Mr. Fabes countered that it’s about how people get sick, which hasn’t changed. They agreed to remove two studies for the sake of minimizing the amount of material submitted to the trustees and to revisit them later.
Ms. Saleh suggested one study was too long. Mr. Fabes suggested providing only the abstract and the group concurred.
There was a consensus to provide studies numbered 1,2, 3 (abstract only,) 4, and 5.
Mr. Braiman said that the village had a professional review the survey, who said that the surveys were very well done and had little feedback. He also said that “Smart Q” also looked at it, a data research firm. They both recommended using ranges for questions about age, income, etc. to increase response rate. There was also a suggestion when asking for numbers of employees paid under a certain rate that there be a separate question for tipped employees. Mr. Braiman said the village would make those suggested changes to the survey.
Mr. Braiman said that March 5th is the next meeting, which will be to go through the minimum-wage studies. He said that at the next meeting, the group would look at the questions on minimum wage to see if questions needed to be added or existing ones changed. And similar to this meeting, they will find which studies apply to each question. The meeting will be continued to March 19th if needed.
They will also discuss and present living wage and employment data to put into the final report. He said a resident suggested they look at the Cook County Commission on Human Rights data to see how many complaints they have received, which they will obtain from the county via a FOIA request.
Then once all of this information is obtained, it will be used to frame the questions for the resident feedback survey. He said if the village conducts a phone survey, it can be done very quickly. That would keep them on schedule to get this before the board by May or June, so they can review the material and make a decision before the next scheduled minimum wage increase on July 1st. He added that they should also ask for feedback from the finance committee to make sure the working group is on the right track before publishing a final report.
Chair Jacoby thanked tax attorney Janus [sic?]/Gina Kennedy [sic?] memorandum on tax law and the meeting was adjourned at 8:51 p.m.