The four-month debate over a Living Wage Ordinance is one step closer to a compromise after the Santa Barbara City Council agreed on September 14 to send the living wage proposal to an ad-hoc committee for what it hopes will be a quick and easy solution.
The proposal calls for an increase in the hourly pay of city workers to either $11 per hour with benefits or $12.25 without benefits and would affect workers employed by city contractors and workers employed by city-funded nonprofit organizations.
Three hundred seventeen outside businesses offering goods and services and 62 nonprofit businesses would be affected, according to Joan Kent, Santa Barbara’s assistant city administrator.
Local organizations pushing for the ordinance include the Coalition for a Living Wage, Campus Labor Action Coalition, Isla Vista and Carpinteria Tenant’s Unions, American Civil Liberties Union and Service Employees International Union. Some 50 organizations, including faith-based, labor, nonprofit and student organizations, as well as tenants groups, environmental groups, senior groups and businesses, also support the proposal.
The ordinance was initially introduced by the Coalition for a Living Wage, which is headed by Harley Augustino.
“The living wage ordinance is part of a nationwide movement that is demanding public accountability for our tax dollars and ensuring that public money is not going to support businesses that pay poverty wages,” Augustino said. “We don’t want a $7-an-hour ordinance. We want them to pass the ordinance we have proposed to them, and we think they can do it. A meaningful wage ordinance will come back in the form of money in the community. Living wage workers will bring the money back in.”
The ordinance calls for compliance from businesses that have contracts with the city valuing at least $20,000 in the first contract year or $10,000 in subsequent years.
Augustino said while the ordinance would not raise wages for employees of private companies, it is a step in the right direction.
“We would love to cover everyone – it’s just not feasible politically; there are legal problems with that,” he said. “We can only affect where tax dollars are going.”
Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayer’s Association, said the Living Wage Ordinance would jeopardize the labor market.
“Employers will purchase less labor because the cost of labor will be higher than it would have been. That means that a lot of people aren’t going to get hired. That would mean that those hired could lose jobs. The wage that the employers are forced to pay exceeds what the employees bring to the table in experience, education and skills,” Armendariz said. “Everyone comes to the table with a different set of criteria and resume. That’s our concern. People will lose jobs and others won’t be hired in the first place.”
Instead of a wage ordinance, Armendariz said the most efficient way to address the needs of the working poor is through targeted, earned income tax credit at the federal and state level.
“Extreme poverty and luxury could be said of any city in America. The bottom line is the marketplace. If there is a market for wages, there’s a market for labor. Markets value jobs. They’re earning a wage because the job is worth ‘x’ amount to the supplier,” he said.
Debbie McQuade, head of AIDS Housing Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization that provides residential housing for people with AIDS, said the ordinance would stimulate the economy.
“From an economic perspective, it’s a smart decision. Inadequate pay can’t make workers committed to a job; they are always jockeying for a better job. In terms of economics, every time someone quits at the job out of frustration, business managers spend time and money advertising for a new person,” McQuade said. “During all that time, if you took all of that money you wouldn’t have this situation occurring.”
UCSB History Professor Alice O’Connor said the workers who would be affected by the initiative deserve a better standard of living.
“Workers are underpaid in Santa Barbara. Their work is extremely important both to supporting their families and important to the local economy. Paying a living wage would reflect the value to their work. There is a substantial problem in the community of people who are working full time and living near the poverty level,” she said.
The ad-hoc committee will meet in the next few weeks and arrange meetings to discuss the issue with the Santa Barbara community .