The Santa Barbara City Council will soon decide whether to approve a new living wage ordinance that could raise the minimum wage for local companies contracting with the city by more than six dollars, thanks to a decision by the council’s finance committee yesterday.
The city council has been working on the living wage ordinance for the past year, in response to pressure from advocate groups representing many of the employees of companies that do business with the city. Yesterday, the SB City Council Finance Committee decided to pass a finalized draft of the ordinance to the council for approval at its March 7 meeting. Lisa Pompatarin, a consultant and former staffer at the Santa Barbara for a Living Wage (SB4LW) organization, said the proposed ordinance calls for certain companies to pay regular employees $14 an hour.
Robert Peirson, finance director for the city of Santa Barbara, said the ordinance would only directly affect employees working on projects for the city.
“The draft was completed in September,” Peirson said. “The ordinance is fairly limited in its scope – it will only apply to service contractors doing work with the city.”
The wage increase will help people who tend to get paid less than the cost of living in the county, Pompatarin said. She said the employees of companies contracting with the city of Santa Barbara help the city to function, and are often paid with money the city raises through taxes.
“We’re reaching for people that use our tax dollars but aren’t direct employees of the city,” Pompatarin said. “These are the people that clean our streets and our linen.”
Peirson said the council decided to draft a living wage ordinance last March and passed the issue to the City Council Ordinance Committee, which then began drafting a proposal for the ordinance. He said he does not know how the proposed ordinance will impact Santa Barbara if it is approved.
“It’s hard for us to estimate that impact will be because the city has never done anything like this before,” Peirson said. “We really don’t know until it is put into effect.”
Pompatarin said Santa Barbara for a Living Wage — a coalition of local labor, religious and community organizations that is pushing for a living wage — hopes the ordinance will pass because the organization’s leaders think it will positively impact many local citizens.
“We’re hoping to affect a couple thousand people,” Pompatarin said. “It would be a really big jump psychologically for people that get paid $8.50 an hour.”
Peirson said the final draft of the ordinance takes the demands of local groups, including SB4LW, into account. He said he believes the groups would like to see the city council expand the ordinance to include employers not working for the city, but he said he thinks the proposed ordinance is a good start for the city.
“The ordinance basically includes everything they wanted,” Peirson said. “They were in here today asking for the breadth of the ordinance to be expanded, but this is definitely a first step.”
Pompatarin said Self Sufficiency Standard, a group that conducts research on the cost of living in all California counties, determined that city employees in Santa Barbara should be paid a minimum of $16.40 per hour. She said the ordinance committee altered the city council’s original proposal from $13 per hour for employees with health benefits and $15.40 per hour for employees without benefits to a standard living wage of $14 per hour.
Pompatarin said she believes that the ordinance committee’s final draft of the proposed living wage ordinance is based on the committee’s assumption that renting a studio apartment in Santa Barbara costs less than it actually does.
“It’s based on research that shows you can rent a studio for $800, and we all know you can’t do that in Santa Barbara — you might get a half-bedroom,” Pompatarin said. “So, thinking about that, our proposed wage is probably a low average.”
If the living wage ordinance passes, Santa Barbara will become one of the 24 cities in California that have a living wage law, Pompatarin said. She said there is currently no way to tell how much the typical employee of a business contracting with the city is paid, because every company pays its workers different amounts.
“It’s hard to tell what [employees are] paid now because all contracts are different,” Pompatarin said. “Some pay their employees really close to what we’re proposing, and some aren’t.”
Pompatarin said she thinks the city council is more likely to approve this proposal than past plans for a living wage ordinance, but she said she is worried the council might further reduce the minimum wage before passing the ordinance. She said she thinks the council should pass the ordinance because it will help the local residents who need it the most.
“It’s not like the whole city needs a raise,” Pompatarin said. “It’s looking more favorably that it will be passed than ever before.”