Living wage policy proposed for Davis city employees

City employees may soon be cashing in on larger paychecks or benefit packages.

The Davis City Council is currently waiting on research in order to implement a standard living wage for the city.

The city’s neglect of having a standard living wage policy has been an issue Councilmember Lamar Heystek has been persistent on addressing since 2006 when he was first elected to City Council.

City employees may soon be cashing in on larger paychecks or benefit packages.

The Davis City Council is currently waiting on research in order to implement a standard living wage for the city.

The city’s neglect of having a standard living wage policy has been an issue Councilmember Lamar Heystek has been persistent on addressing since 2006 when he was first elected to City Council.

“We need to have some semblance of fairness in how we compensate our employees,” Heystek said. “Single digit wages are not something we should be proud of. These are adults with children, not interns.… They are people who are trying to make a living, and we need to renegotiate their wages.”

This issue grew high on the list of City Council priorities after it declined to extend a yearlong contract with landscape companies. The council said it was unsure if the employees were being appropriately compensated for their labor. The council was motivated to figure out what the city, in conjunction with Parks and Community Services, set out to define a standard living wage.

“The City Council wants a living wage ordinance,” said Jim Newman, superintendent of Parks and General Services. “A living wage is above minimum wage, and it is computed on the area and is dependent on whether or not the employers give certain health benefits.… In this particular region, living wage is $9.50 to $11, although we have yet to define what it is for Davis.”

When the issue of living wage was first brought forward, it was intended to be more universal for Davis, affecting private enterprise, city contracts and city employees, but this policy was not adopted.

“A couple of years ago when Councilmember Heystek brought living wage up, I put forward the living wage ordinance from Santa Monica,” said Councilmember Stephen Souza. “As I read the body of information available, we had a better chance, given the state of what was in the courts, to put ahead living wage for our workers of the city of Davis.”

Now, two years later, the issue is being discussed again, and the plan of action for City Council is to find out Davis’ living wage and apply it first to city workers. After a standard of living wage is constituted, the city will research the laws on living wage and private enterprise and see how the city can apply living wage standards to those citizens who are privately employed, UC Davis employees and students employed at private enterprises within the city of Davis.

“We want to figure out an appropriate level for employees of the city of Davis and those who contract within the city of Davis,” Souza said. “We’ll have to see if it’ll be more beneficial for higher wages and no benefits or for a wage with a minimum level of health care. I’m not sure which direction the city will go in, but all these questions have to be asked and answered to make an appropriate decision for the city.”

Although the City Council would like the issue of living wage to be resolved as soon as possible, they don’t think it’s appropriate to put forth a timeline, Souza said.

“Time is not of the essence as much as it’s important that it’s done correctly,” he said.

The issue of living wage is one of great significance for the city of Davis and the rest of the country, as it affects the standard of living.

“It’s an ongoing debate occurring not only in the state of California, but across the nation, and it is an appropriate debate in our city with high rents, high gas prices and high food costs – which are all things that are really hurting folks,” Souza said. “It’s important for us to pay people a wage that lets them not only to get by, but a wage that lets people live.”

ALEX BULLER can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com.