A campaign to raise the minimum wage to a "living wage" has been waged in cities around the country with great success. Over 100 cities and counties have passed a living wage law of some sort. Generally, these laws require that businesses that have contracts with the city provide a specified wage and benefits package that is higher than the federal minimum (one city, Santa Fe, New Mexico, has gone further, adopting a minimum wage for all businesses with more than 25 employees). Living Wage laws tend to be the result of campaigns fought by community groups like ACORN, churches and labor unions.
Municipalliving wage ordinances vary in their provisions. According to ACORN, living wage laws range from $6.25 (Milwaukee County) to $12.00/hour(Santa Cruz, assuming employer doesn’t pay health benefits, otherwise$11.00/hour). A wage of about $8.25 is necessary for a full time worker to earn above the federal poverty level for a family of four. Some laws cover employees working on city contracts, while others extend to workers in firms receiving municipal subsidies or tax abatements. Several cities index the wage to the Consumer Price Index. Others stipulate that a percentage of new hires live within the community.
Criticsof living wage laws argue that they eliminate jobs, hurt the economy and are ultimately subsidized through higher local taxes. However, studies show the impact on the economy has been limited. Robert Pollin, author of the book "The Living Wage: Building a Fair Economy" and a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst studied the impact of the 1997 Los Angeles living wage ordinance and concluded that it boosted costs about 1 percent for the businesses affected.
Across the nation, cities, counties and other local governments are adopting living wage ordinances to help working families get a decent standard of living. While the details vary, these ordinances seek to insure that the employees of public contractors or corporations receiving public financial assistance, and public employees earn at least a poverty level wage. Some have gone beyond this bare minimum to offer higher wage rates, incentives for employers to provide health insurance, and paid time off for sick leave and vacations.
ACORN has a nice Compilation of Living Wage Policies on the Books.
On May 22, 2001, the Santa Monica City Council held first reading on an ordinance to establish a "living wage" of $10.50/hour applicable to certain employers in a defined geographical area of the city. This came after almost two years of community activity for and against such a measure, including a ballot initiative defeated in November 2000 that would have preempted Council action on the matter. In 2001 the council enacted the ordinance. The issue was subsequently placed on the November 2002 election ballot as a referendum item. The ordinance was narrowly defeated by a vote of 14,830 against and 13,860 in favor. Continue reading
In October 2000, Santa Cruz, California’s city council unanimously passed the nation’s highest local living wage ordinance. Upon enactment, all full-time city employees and full-time employees working on city contracts of $10,000 or more were paid $11 per hour with health benefits or $12 per hour without. Continue reading
In February 2003, Santa Fe, New Mexico enacted a minimum wage ordinance. Beginning January 1, 2004, the ordinance will require an $8.50 per hour minimum wage for all businesses and nonprofit organizations with 25 or more employees. The wage will rise to $9.50 per hour in 2006 and $10.50 per hour in 2008. Tips earned by employees can be counted towards the minimum.
On August 21, 2000, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a"minimum compensation" law that requires city service contractors, including nonprofit agencies, and leaseholders at San Francisco International Airport to pay workers at least $9 an hour. Wages will jump to $10 an hour next year followed by 2.5 percent raises for three more years. It also gives workers 12 paid days off and 10 unpaid days for family emergencies. Continue reading
In January 1997, the St. Paul, Minnesota, city council unanimously passed a directive requiring recipients of $100,000 or more of city economic development assistance in one year to pay employees a living wage, defined as 110% of the federal poverty level for a family of four, currently about $8.83 an hour (100% of poverty line required for companies who provide health insurance; currently $8.03). At least 60%of new jobs created as a result of such assistance must go to St. Paul residents. Continue reading
Approved in March 1998, this ordinance (Ordinance No. 12050) requires companies or non-profits that enter into service contracts with the city worth at least $25,000 or benefit from at least $100,000 in city subsidies in a year to pay workers a minimum of $9.25 an hour ($8.00 if the firm provides health benefits). The minimum wages were adjusted annually. The ordinance also entitles such workers to 12 paid days off per year. It also allows that a collective bargaining agreement may provide that such agreement may supersede the requirements of the living wage ordinance. Continue reading
In March 1997 the city council unanimously passed a living wage policy requiring businesses benefiting from $100,000 or more in city assistance in one year to pay employees a living wage. The wage will be defined and indexed as 110% of the federal poverty level for a family of four. Recipients of such assistance must also set a goal that 60% of new jobs will be held by city residents. Additional provisions prohibit privatization of services currently performed by city employees that would result in lower wages, and preferences for assistance to union-friendly businesses.
At the ballot box on November 3, 1998, Detroit voters overwhelmingly approved a living wage measure that requires city service contractors or recipients of city financial assistance of $50,000 or more to pay employees a wage equivalent to the federal poverty line for a family of four. Continue reading
In July 2006 the Chicago City Council voted 35-14 to pass a new ordinance that requires large retailers to provide employees with a compensation package consisting of a minimum living wage and a minimum benefits package. Continue reading