Members and supporters of the Coalition for a Living Wage gathered yesterday in front of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, holding signs and yelling chants calling for an increase in wages for city workers.

The Living Wage Ordinance proposed by the coalition would raise the hourly pay of city workers to either $11 per hour with benefits or $12.25 per hour without benefits. The ordinance – which extends the definition of city workers to city contractors and city-funded nonprofit-workers -is scheduled to come before the new Santa Barbara City Council in spring. If passed, 317 businesses and 62 non-profit organizations would be affected, according to Joan Kent, Santa Barbara’s assistant city administrator.

The ordinance was first brought before the city in June 2001. In September, the council decided to send the proposal to an ad hoc committee for what they hoped would provide a quick and easy solution. In November, the subcommittee recommended that the council defer the decision to the new council, which took over in January. The committee said they based their decision on the declining economic status after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the meeting in November, Santa Barbara City councilman Tom Roberts said the 2002 budget did not provide for the costs of a living wage ordinance because of declining city revenues.

The Living Wage Ordinance is endorsed by several community organizations, including labor and tenants unions, businesses, faith-based, non-profit, women’s, youth, senior, civil rights and environmental organizations. Opponents – including the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce – claim a living wage ordinance would be too expensive during a time of recession.

“Enacting a living wage ordinance is needed now more than ever,” said Pedro Nava, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Passing a living wage ordinance is stimulus for Santa Barbara’s economy. We need to invest in low-wage workers, who are most likely to spend their income in the community.”

Eileen Boris, a researcher and supporter for the Coalition for a Living Wage, said the current minimum wage law was adopted in 1938 in the midst of the Great Depression.

“A living wage goes to people who spend money. They don’t invest in the stock market, they invest in the merchants of Santa Barbara,” she said.

Throughout the country, 78 communities have passed living wage ordinances, 13 of which are in California. Twenty-five living wage ordinances were passed in 2001 as the economy was slowing and 11 were enacted after Sept. 11.

Gabriela Hernandez, a full-time student at Santa Barbara City College and mother of two, said even though she works two jobs, she barely makes enough money to get by.

“The living wage would allow workers to keep their jobs year round with better pay,” she said. “It would make our lives a lot easier.”