Sacramento Becomes First Inland City In California

To Adopt A Living Wage Ordinance

by Dan Bacher

Dissident Voice

October 2, 2003


The Sacramento City Council on September 30 voted to adopt a living wage ordinance, making Sacramento the first city in the Central Valley to pass such a measure.


The passage of the ordinance, the result of a four year campaign by a coalition of over 100 community organizations, the Central Labor Council and unions, was a huge victory for labor and social justice advocates, who packed the council chambers for the meeting. After many of hours of negotiations between city officials, labor leaders, community organizations and the business community, the council finally adopted a compromise ordinance that set a “living wage” starting at $9.00 per hour with benefits in 2004.


After a two-year deadlock, Mayor Heather Fargo and Council Member Steve Cohn joined city council members Dave Jones, Lauren Hammond, Bonnie Pannell and Sandy Sheedy in voting for the ordinance. Council members Jimmy Yee and Robbie Waters voted against it. Ray Treathaway abstained because of potential conflict of interest.


“This is the first time in the history of California that a living wage ordinance has been approved in an inland city,” said Bill Camp, executive secretary of the Central Labor Council of Sacramento County. “This is a great day for working families and represents a new dawn in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.”


Up until this time, only California coastal cities, such as L.A., San Francisco, San Mateo, San Jose and Hayward, have adopted living wage ordinances. Sacramento will join 110 other cities and counties in the nation that have passed these ordinances.


“This is part of a broader and long lineage of progressive policy legislation in our country, including child labor, minimum wage and social security laws and more recently, the Family Medical Leave Act,” said Dave Jones, the city council member who introduced the ordinance. “We have every right to be proud to pass this resolution. The Coalition that worked for this ordinance is similar to coalitions that worked for the earlier legislation, including labor, churches, synagogues, neighborhood leaders and environmentalists."


Robbie Waters, the most vocal opponent of the ordinance on the council, said he couldn’t support the measure because of the increased costs that it will incur upon the city and businesses. “The ordinance will cost $100,000 to set up and another $100,000 to keep going each year,” he said. “I predict that many businesses will quit doing business with Sacramento because of increased costs.”


The compromise Living Wage Ordinance sets the living wage at $9.00 per hour with benefits in 2004, increasing to $9.33 in 2005, $9.67 in 2006, and/or adjusted to CPI, whichever is greater. Without employee benefits, the living wage would be set at $10.50 per hour.


The threshold for mandatory Living Wage would be any contract with the city with a contract price at $100,000 or more; any person or company having 25 or more employees; and city career full-time employees.


The exceptions to the ordinance would include non profit corporations with less than 100 employees; contractors performing professional services; contractors performing under circumstances deemed by the City Manger to constitute an emergency; student internships and specialized training programs; and city seasonal employees.


The ordinance will take effect 60 days after its passage, but the requirement to begin paying Living Wage starts January 1, 2004 for the duration of the City Contract.


In addition, the ordinance provides a Voluntary Living Wage Program, the brainchild of Councilman Cohn, for those contractors not covered under the mandatory living wage. All contracts with the city with a contract price between $25,000 and $100,000 will receive a 5 percent credit on the their proposed contract price in bids/RFP process for providing a living wage and/or qualifying healthy or childcare benefits.


Congratulations go to the Steering Committee of the Living Wage Campaign, who participated in the tough, long negotiations that resulted in the living wage becoming a reality. The committee includes Ruth Holbrook, John Borsos, Manny Gale, Eric Vega, Chris Jones, Carl Neuberger, Augustin Ramirez, Dannette Janick, Morgan Gay and Bill Camp.


“The Living Wage ordinance is a great first step,” summed up Chris Jones of California ACORN, “although I think the thresholds set by the city are a bit high. I won’t rest until most people who deserve it receive a living wage, a decent day’s wage for a decent day’s work.”


Added community member Phyllis Johnson, “the key word to this ordinance is ‘living.’ We’re not asking for the moon and stars or to be the CEO, just a wage we can live on.”


The recent victory of the living wage campaign gives Sacramento area social justice and civil liberties activists an impetus to press for the adoption of an anti-Patriot Act ordinance by the city council, as well as the rescinding of a controversial measure passed by the council in June that set severe restrictions on signs, clothing (bandanas) and items that protesters can hold and possess during demonstrations and marches in the Capital City.


Daniel Bacher is an outdoor writer/alternative journalist/satirical songwriter from Sacramento California. He is also a long-time peace, social justice and environmental activist. Email: danielbacher@hotmail.com


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