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Monday, May 28, 2007

Heystek Continues to Fight for Living Wage in Davis

Last fall, the Davis City Council struck down an effort by Councilmember Lamar Heystek to institute a living wage ordinance that would require large retailers to pay a 10 dollar-per-hour starting wage and three dollar-per-hour's worth of benefits to their employees.

By a 3-2 vote, the council majority of Stephen Souza, Don Saylor, and Ruth Asmundson rejected this ordinance. Only Mayor Sue Greenwald joined Councilmember Heystek in support. They argued that it may be unconstitutional (a notion struck down by City Attorney Harriet Steiner) and questioned why it would only apply to large employers. The council majority saw this as a poison pill aimed in the direction of Target just six weeks before the November election.

However, subsequent actions by Heystek have shown this criticism to be misplaced and the council majority as having severely misjudged the commitment by Councilmember Heystek to bring about a living wage.

In January, Heystek moved for the council to have the objective to have an ordinance that addressed a living wage effecting city contracts. That motion was supported unanimously by the council.

This past Tuesday (May 22, 2007), Heystek brought the issue up once again, asking staff:

“The council had given staff direction to analyze the issue of the living wage vis-à-vis our contracts when we were either renegotiating or updating those contracts, can you tell us whether that is still on track and what the timeline is on that procedure?”

City Manager Bill Emlen acknowledged that they had not started, however, he said, "it is something that is on our radar."

Councilmember Heystek was particularly concerned with outsourced labor by the city, particularly in light of the recent events at UC Davis regarding the Sodexho workers. He asked Parks and Community Development Director Donna Silva whether there were advantages of in-house over contractual workers.

Ms. Silva made it a point to clarify that the city policy is not simply based on cost, but also on other concerns--trucks, supervision, overhead, facility costs among other things. She also specified that for certain kinds of work contractual workers have an advantage especially when the job does not require much contact with the public and communication skills. She suggested it was more efficient to contract out than to hire in-house.

Heystek responded:
“I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite when I’m asking the chancellor how we can get some of the food workers in the dining commons to become university employees, so this is a very sensitive issue for me. I just hope that we are earnest in looking at how we fulfill our contractual obligations but then really look at whether we are paying a living wage with regard to these contracts. It is a matter of conscience to me..."
Mayor Greenwald also expressed concern about the health care situation of contractual employees.

Heystek however remains committed both to the living wage and to ending the outsourcing of labor.
"I would like to see if they’d consider bringing our contracted out workers first of all to a living wage standard and ultimately bringing them into the city’s direct payroll."
Moreover, he told The Vanguard that he questions the commitment of those on the council majority to this issue, while some of them have at the same time written letters to the chancellor of the university.
"We’re talking about writing letters to the university saying that your contracted workers need to be direct employees, well I think that our own contracted out workers should be direct employees. So how many council members are willing to say one thing to the university but say another thing to our city manager?"
The council majority does seem to want to have it both ways. They recognize that this is a generally liberal community when it comes to labor issues. Souza and Saylor are up for re-election in just over 12 months. They know they need to appeal to that wing of the Democratic Party in this community in order to win re-election, at the same time they have committed a tremendous amount of city resources to upper management in the city, while leaving considerably less for those at entry levels.

Furthermore, while they have a need to appeal to liberal elements in this city, they have strong backing of developers and business owners who would oppose attempts to pass a living wage ordinance, just as the council opposed efforts to apply it to Target. Now the city has lost the ability to ensure that hundreds of Target employees receive a living wage.

The council majority wants it both ways, but just as Don Saylor's letter to the chancellor on Sodexho showed his hand, he and his colleagues' inaction on living wage, shows theirs. They continue to want to have it both ways until those in this community that stand behind the true principles of labor rights and social justice stand up and tell them no.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting