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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Councilmember Heystek's Persistence on Living Wage Leads to Future Discussion

Early in Lamar Heystek's tenure as Davis City Councilmember, he pushed for a living wage ordinance. This ordinance would have required large employers within the city of Davis to provide a living wage for their employees. The Council Majority of Councilmembers Don Saylor, Stephen Souza, and Ruth Asmundson rejected that ordinance in a somewhat contentious proceding.

Instead the council majority led by Stephen Souza and Don Saylor suggested that they were working on a project labor agreement on Target. This issue came up prior to the election on Measure K (Target) in November of 2006 and we have not heard about it since.

Meanwhile last spring, Councilmember Heystek continued to push for a living wage, this one in a less contentious venue--city contracts--a venue in which the city council has complete control, as opposed to a city wide venue where the control is more tenuous.

In late May of 2007, Councilmember Heystek asked 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?”
The response by Bill Emlen was that this was on the 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."
As the councilmember said at that time:
“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..."
As he told the Vanguard at the time:
"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?"
Flash forward now to Tuesday night. Once again, on the consent calendar the council was asked to approve not one but two contracts from outside venues, neither one requiring a living wage.

Councilmember Heystek:
"I simply cannot support a contract that whereby employees get $9 per hour, I brought up the issue of the living wage at my very third meeting, here as a member of this body, there was consensus from that point on, from the point of bringing it up of our list of goals in December of 2006 to be to pursue a framework by which the city of Davis hires contract employees with a living wage. This contract does not provide for a living wage for all of its employees, notwithstanding the benefits that you specified in the contract. I will continue to advocate for a living wage ordinance that covers city contracts and in the spirit of that consensus of this council, I hope that we can come up with a contract arrangement that does provide for a truly living wage. If were to were to expect these people to live in Davis, I will not talk about the merits necessarily of a living wage ordinance—we’ve already weighed in on that as a council. I will not wait until the end of my term to see a living wage ordinance passed. I believe that we must pass contracts that allow us to have a living wage whether or not we have an ordinance today or tomorrow. I understand that staff have the need to approve contracts because we have existing contracts that are expiring in June, but that does not change my belief that a living wage ordinance is needed and that a living wage contract needs to be provided for all of our contract employees… And I hope that we can see the end of 2008 with some action in this regard. Until we have a living wage ordinance passed, I will oppose the contract."
Mayor Sue Greenwald agreed with the councilmember.
"This issue is always troubling to me, back when we were doing our labor negotiations, if you recall, I voted against enhanced benefits for the highest paid workers in town, the management… I was also concerned with some of the wages we were giving to the fire department. The reason I gave at the time was that it was unjust that it was going to come out of the lowest wage workers—one way or another… I totally agree with Lamar, and I think the problem now is that our budget and our long range forecast and everything we’ve done has factored in giving our highest paid workers these enhanced benefits… factor those in and there’s no wiggle room for the lowest paid workers."
The rest of the council was not unsupportive of the principle but took a more middle ground on this issue, preferring to have a discussion. Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Asmundson expressed concern about the budget. Councilmember Don Saylor expressed concern about methodology for determining how much a living wage contract should be and wanted it to be based on something very real and thus preferred to wait.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek however was not willing to wait. He pressed hard for this to come forth:
"I do not believe that the way we go about approving contracts like these is to put the cart before the horse. In other words, we knew from the year 2006 that this would be a point of discussion. So if it were so important to have a living wage contract before us, then we would have had that discussion, that living wage policy discussion that we’d ask for from the beginning, in it, before these contracts came up. So let’s get that straight, we should have and we did not have a discussion when it was appropriate. We’re having this discussion after we know this is an issue and we are poised to approve not one but two contracts. We’re talking about one right now… You talk about the budgetary issue Madam Mayor Pro, and I think we should be responsible but we should not be balancing our budget on the backs of our lowest paid employees."
Councilmember Heystek's persistence and forcefulness on this issue eventually paid off. Councilmember Stephen Souza found middle ground to which all of the council would eventually agreed to have this contract renegotiated with higher wages for the lowest paid employees along with a future discussion about living wage.

The vendor himself came forward and expressed support in having a living wage and said he was amenable and supportive to whatever contract the council came forward with.

While the council would eventually reach a consensus on this issue, it is clear that the leadership here came from Councilmember Heystek who simply would not take no for an answer on this one. As he expressed to me later, this is not a new issue. He has brought it up numerous times from his third meeting as a councilmember on. The council has said they will take up this issue and yet each year contract extensions have come up, they have delayed and delayed. Finally he would not allow them to delay again.

Will this bring about finally a living wage ordinance to protect those workers who work on outsourced contracts? We shall see. However, the councilmember is clearly correct that if the council is demanding that UC Davis pay its outsourced labor living wage or bring them in house, the city cannot have a moral standing to do that unless they are willing to pay outsourced labor a living wage.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting