The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Thursday, September 25, 2008

City Moves Forward with Living Wage Ordinance

On Tuesday night, city council anonymously moved forward by asking the city staff to draft an ordinance that would bring contracted workers up to $11 per hour or $12.50 per hour should health benefits not be included.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek pushed for the city to move towards a fifty percent of Yolo County median over a period of time. The council direction came on a 3-2 vote with Councilmembers Sue Greenwald and Stephen Souza joining Mr. Heystek.

Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor cynically asked staff about the absence of affected employees at this meeting.
"In all of the conversations we've had on this, I've not seen any of the affected employees in the room, and we've not heard from them, that's unusual, why is that?"

Assistant City Manager Paul Navazio did not have an answer to Mr. Saylor's question.

Later during councilmember comments, Councilmember Heystek responded to this question.
"The reason that I'm here is that I'm on the city council."
Heystek suggested that those impacted are not here because they might not know about or they are dealing with other things such as their families and eking out a living. These individuals are not connected to our community and perhaps do not even know that this is before council. Mr. Heystek then points out only two people came about the sewer rates, and noted that we did not ask where the other ratepayers were.
"People have their reasons for being here. I'm here to stand up for the living wage ordinance that I campaigned for and that the city council anonymously supported."
The issue of cost to the city was cited as a reason by the Chamber of Commerce to oppose this measure.

Steve Greenfield, Davis Chamber of Commerce:
"While the Davis Chamber of Commerce acknowledges the social concerns which motivate the wage ordinance, the chamber does not support the adoption of such an ordinance."
"One of the key reasons why we felt that this was not appropriate is that one of the original reasons why these services were selected by your predecessors to contract out was to save costs, and here we're increasing those costs anywhere from $30 to $200,000, maybe even more."
Sue Greenwald asked in response:
"I was wondering, has the Chamber ever taken a position on the labor contracts of our most highly paid workers, who actually pose a threat to the solvency of the city?"
Steve Greenfield:
"Not that I'm aware of."
Councilmember Heystek made an impassioned plea for social justice.

However, as he noted to the Vanguard, the Davis Enterprise slightly misquoted him which changed the meaning of what he said.

The Enterprise printed:
"'This should be more than symbolic,' he said. 'This should help people. This would allow our most vulnerable population to buy our most affordable housing.'"
According to the tape from meeting, Mr. Heystek said "afford" rather than "buy" "our most affordable housing." The idea that an individual would be able to buy housing on a salary of $12.71 is not feasible or realistic. The idea that an individual could afford to rent an apartment in our affordable housing areas is feasible.

This should not be read as a criticism of the Enterprise but rather a clarification of what the Councilmember said and the meaning of his words.

The councilmember pushed hard for the council to adopt a means by which to increase that wage to the eventual goal of 50 percent of Yolo County median. He said he was willing to compromise on the numbers, but not on the principles of the ordinance. He was looking for a way to get this goal.

Sue Greenwald also made a strong statement for social justice:
"I went over cost and it doesn't cost that much. We give almost no discussion, public discussion, to our pay increases for our highest paid workers. And this is where the real cost to the city is."
If we took our highest paid workers, managers, top bargaining groups she said,
"people who make well over $150,000 total compensation, and one year we cut their cost of living increases by one percent for one year... it would probably cover twice what we're asking here."
"People who are doing high paid jobs could not do their work without the labor, the daily labor of the people who are getting paid below a living wage."
In her closing remarks she added:
"Forget about housing... here we're talking about allowing people who work in Davis to eat... I think it's really important that we don't balance our budget on the backs of the poorest of the poor."
The issue of costs to the city was raised by the Chamber of Commerce, as well as three of the councilmembers.

Stephen Souza via teleconference from Long Beach asked:
"The question is where are we going to cut to have this living wage ordinance?"
However, Stephen Souza stuck to his guns on this issue and voted with Councilmembers Heystek and Greenwald.

Mayor Asmundson opposed the motion on the grounds of cost to the city as did Mayor Pro Tem Don Saylor.

While Councilmember Heystek was the conscience of the council on this issue, Councilmember Greenwald raised the pertinent point on costs.

The city of Davis has 61 employees who make over $100,000 per year in salary and overtime alone. Never mind the amount of employees who make over $100,000 in total compensation and the number of employees who make over $150,000 in total compensation.

Right now, according to Assistant City Manager Navazio, we are talking about 18 workers. This is largely a symbolic action except to those 18 workers who will be better able to feed and shelter their families as the result of council's actions on Tuesday.

The real costs to this city are not from increasing the wages to those 18 workers. The Chamber of Commerce has never inserted itself into labor discussions for those 61 individuals making over $100,000. Sue Greenwald brilliantly asked that questioned, I add the question, why is that?

Why is it that we never have an issue when it comes time to increase the pay to the top employees of the city, but the moment we talk about raising the pay for people making basically poverty wages, the Chamber of Commerce and some of the council becomes fiscal conservatives? At least Mayor Asmundson has been consistent looking for ways to hold the line on spending at the top as well for the bottom. That is more than Don Saylor can say.

As councilmember Sue Greenwald pointed out, if we want to make this work, all we have to do is slow down the growth of the top salaries for a single year. So why are we trying to balance the budget on the backs of those making the lowest wages rather than those making the highest wages.

In this way, the situation in Davis is similar to that with the UCs. The UC system holds out raising the pay of the lowest paid workers but has no problem paying out $800,000 to its President. That represents a $400,000 raise over his predecessor.

This past week, the US government made headlines proposing a $700 BILLION bailout for the top financial companies. These companies are going bankrupt and threatening the solvency of the entire financial system. At the same time, they are paying their top executives up to $25 million per year. And the US taxpayers are expected to bailout these companies who are paying these salaries?

We have things backwards in this country. The powers that be hardly lift a finger in protest when the top dogs get their pay, but God forbid we should ever propose even a very modest pay raise for those making the lowest wages.

Councilmember Lamar Heystek is part of the council minority. He has never had a reliable third vote since he arrived on council. And yet through his vision, his tenacity, and his soul, he has willed this to take place. He deserves tremendous credit for the living wage ordinance, a very modest ordinance that helps a mere 18 people who work indirectly for the city of Davis. This is but the first step, but for those 18 people it will be a tremendous help in their every day lives.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting