As a founding member of Chicago’s Progressive Reform Caucus, Alderman John Arena has led the way in passing substantive legislation to improve the quality of life for all Chicagoans. His support of ethics reform, government transparency, fiscal accountability, and fair labor laws have set him apart as an independent, progressive voice in Chicago and earned him the IVI-IPO Leon Despres Award in 2017.
In May 2013, I filed a resolution to place a non-binding referendum for an elected school board to appear on the March 2014 ballot. In 2013, the measure failed to pass City Council with a 32-15 vote and was sent to the Rules Committee. In 2014, I once again fought to have a referendum on the 2015 municipal ballot. In October 2014, the effort was blocked when the Rules Committee hastily approved three advisory referendums for the election.
I will continue to pressure City Council, the State, and the Mayor to do the right thing for Chicago students by allowing Chicago residents to vote for school board members.
On December 12, 2018, I, alongside mycolleagues in Chicago’s Progressive Reform Caucus, introduced an ordinance that would strip the Finance Committee from overseeing the $100 million workers’ compensation program.
The move, if passed, would allow for more transparency, oversight, and efficiency in how decisions in allocating these taxpayer dollars are made. The program currently is run under the Finance Committee, which is out of the jurisdiction of the Inspector General’s office.
This isn’t the first time I sought to bring more transparency to the Finance Committee’s opaque processes. In 2016, I pushed to have the Inspector General’s investigative jurisdiction include the Finance Committee’s office.
In May 2016, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed the Debt Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance (DTAP). This is a major regulatory ordinance that I spearheaded along with Alderman Waguespack and other members of the Chicago Progressive Caucus.
The ordinance was designed to create oversight and transparency for financial transactions like SWAPS and other variable rate financing of city debt that have plagued the City in recent years.
Under the new ordinance, no long-term debt or novel financial transactions that bear interest at a non-fixed rate for any part of its life may be entered into the City until several new criteria are met. The ordinance requires a heightened level of scrutiny on debt transactions, an extended period for public notices and hearings, as well as additional reporting from the CFO regarding financial transactions.
This ordinance is the product of months of work to determine how to better hold the City of Chicago accountable for its financial undertakings in the future. Through this ordinance, we seek to acknowledge the economic missteps and ensure that reckless investments and debt transactions remain a thing of the past.
In June 2017, I co-sponsored The Chicago Fair Workweek Ordinance. The ordinance, if passed, would provide hourly and part-time workers more predictability, stability, and security. It would require employers give workers two weeks advance notice of workers’ schedules, the opportunity for employees to accept or decline more hours being added to their schedule, and a predicted pay for when hours are shifted.
The Fair Workweek Ordinance recognizes and addresses the realities of workers that are juggling multiple jobs while balancing their home lives.
In April 2016, I co-sponsored the Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. I voted yes on this ordinance in June 2016 to ensure that every employee has access to paid time off. The ordinance states that employers must provide the right to earn and use up to 5 paid sick days (or 40 hours) per year, with at least one hour earned for every 40 worked. Up to 20 unused hours must be allowed to roll over into the following year.
The Paid Sick Leave Ordinance allows employees to take the time they need to recover without worrying about how they’ll pay for essentials – like their next bus ride or child care. It ensures peace of mind and more financial security for workers across Chicago.
After tirelessly working alongside Ald. Pawar, Ald. O’Connor, Ald. Ramirez Rosa, Arise Chicago, and SEIU for the past three years, I am pleased to announce that on October 31, 2018, the City Council unanimously approved the creation of the Office of Labor Standards. The new office will start January 1, 2019.
This office, which will be an extension of the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, will be responsible for enforcing the minimum wage ordinance, the paid sick leave ordinance, and anti-wage theft laws. The OLS would also be responsible for the proposed Fair Workweek Ordinance, of which I am a co-sponsor, if it passes City Council.
By enforcing laws that protect workers, the OLS will protect wage-earners from predatory employers, and it will ensure that those employers who are following the rules are competing on a level playing field.
The OLS will also be tasked with conducting community outreach to educate employers and employees about workplace laws. The outreach efforts will be funded, in part, with money collected from violations.
I am confident that the implementation of the OLS will strengthen the effectiveness of the forward-thinking policies we have enacted to protect Chicagoans and improve their working conditions.
In March 2016, I voted to exempt sanitary napkins and tampons from the so-called “tampon tax”. Previously, these items were taxed at a 10.25% tax rate across the city.
The move allowed to reclassify tampons and other feminine hygiene products as medical necessities, removing the luxury tax previously applied.
This measure is important in ensuring women, regardless of socioeconomic status, have fair access to the products they require to maintain a healthy reproductive system.
In 2016, I voted yes on an ordinance that allows people to use whichever public restroom matches their gender identity. This ordinance closed a gap in the existing Human Rights Ordinance, which allowed businesses to ask for a government ID as proof of gender identity to use bathrooms, fitting rooms, and similar facilities.
The passage of this ordinance was a milestone in making Chicago a more equitable and just city, where residents and visitors alike can know that they are protected from oppressive discrimination practices.
Since 2016, I have spearheaded Chicago’s effort to divest from fossil fuel companies. Under the proposed resolution I authored in December of that year, Chicago’s pension funds would cease new investments and divest direct holdings in fossil fuel companies. In January 2018 I persuaded 38 other members of City Council to sign a non-binding resolution to divest from oil and gas companies.
I’ve worked with Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers to expand my efforts and create a more carbon-neutral city. Together we are working to fight climate change and invest in clean energy. If our proposal is adopted, Chicago will be the largest city in the world to invest based on environmental, social, and governance factors.
We are also pushing for Chicago to sign on to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment. This initiative requires transparency and annual reporting on broad investment goals. Fossil fuel corporations have begun to respond to the pressure, and the Treasurer and I will continue to respond to the threat of the climate crisis.
In April 2017, along with Alderman Waguespack, I introduced an ordinance to ban the sale and use of coal tar sealants. Coal tar sealants are currently used everywhere from playgrounds to driveways, yet exposure to their toxic chemicals is proven to cause health problems ranging from birth defects to cancer. Coal tar sealants also pose an environmental risk as they can contaminate water through runoff.
Although this ordinance has been referred to committee, I will continue to push for regulations to protect our environment and the health of the residents of Chicago.
In July 2015, I strongly supported fellow Progressive Caucus member Alderman Sawyer and co-sponsored the Privatization Transparency, Accountability and Performance Ordinance. In November 2015, I voted yes to pass the ordinance. This prevents situations like the 2008 parking meter lease from occurring in the future.
The ordinance requires that, when assets are being privatized, there are 90 days for city council and the public to review a plain English summary of the plan. Additionally, the ordinance mandates independent advisors and provides the opportunity for public comment. A cost-effectiveness study is required for privatization projects valued at over $3 million.
This ordinance makes sure that public decisions put the public first and efficiently use taxpayer dollars. I will continue to support transparency, accountability, and honesty with the people of Chicago.
In January 2018, I voted no on an ordinance that allows Presence Health Network to construct headquarters and neighborhood facilities. Although I believe it is crucial to provide healthcare to communities in need, the Presence Health Network refuses to offer comprehensive reproductive healthcare to its patients.
This $5.6 million subsidy passed City Council 31-18, limiting reproductive health options and a person’s right to choose if they use these medical facilities. As a pro-choice legislator, I will continue to work so that the people of Chicago have access to comprehensive healthcare and vote against ordinances that provide disparate healthcare services to our lower-income neighborhoods.
In May 2014, along with Aldermen Sawyer and Moreno, I introduced an amendment to the municipal code which would raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. I believe that this increase would help over 500,000 Chicagoans by reducing poverty and inequality. The affected low-income workers would be able to spend more on increasing living costs and at nearby local businesses, boosting the economy. Despite our efforts, this ordinance failed to pass in City Council.
In December 2014, I voted yes on an amendment that will raise Chicago’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by July 1, 2019. This amendment is an important first step in making Chicago more livable for all its residents, and I am committed to continuing the fight for $15.