The city of Davis could be on the way to boosting the wages of some of its lowest paid workers after last week’s City Council meeting.
The council voted 3-2 to have city staff write a living wage ordinance covering everyone paid by the city. The ordinance would require contractors who work with the city to pay their employees a predetermined wage above the state minimum wage of $8 per hour.
According to assistant city manager Paul Navazio, a living wage ordinance would primarily affect landscape maintenance and janitorial workers employed by the city through contractors. Eighteen of those workers are currently paid less than $11 per hour.
The motion to move forward on developing an ordinance was opposed by Mayor Ruth Asmundson and Mayor pro Tem Don Saylor, both of whom cited budgetary concerns as reasons for opposing an ordinance.
“Because of the economic uncertainty right now, I’m really not in favor of making a decision right now,” Asmundson said. “I worry about the unintended consequences of this.“
The cost to the city of implementing a living wage varies depending on what the wage level is set to. At $10 per hour, the net cost could be as low as $27,000 per year. At $14.21 per hour – the high end of the spectrum – the net cost could be as high as $229,000.
“This is so little,” said Councilmember Sue Greenwald. “It’s so little it’s almost embarrassing.“
Greenwald said there were ways to minimize the impact of a living wage on the city’s budget.
“I think it’s real important that we don’t balance our budget on the backs of the poorest of the poor,” she said. “I think there’s plenty of room to make small adjustments at the top of our pay structure to pay for this.”
Over 95 living wage ordinances have been passed in the United States since 1994, according to a report prepared by Navazio. Twenty-one of those ordinances are in California cities.
Sacramento has an ordinance requiring that workers be paid a minimum of $10.33 per hour, with health coverage. The city of Fairfax in Marin County has one of the highest requirements at $15.34 per hour.
Impacts of adopting a living wage have varied among the different cities that have tried it. It’s hard to say what the impact will be on Davis, Navazio said.
“Until we actually go out to bid in an environment where we have a living wage, it will be hard to know for sure,” he said.
Councilmember Lamar Heystek, who has been advocating for a living wage ordinance since his election campaign in 2006, framed the issue as one of social justice.
“This should be more than symbolic,” he said. “This should actually help people.“
Heystek called for a minimum of $12.71 per hour with health coverage, or $14.21 per hour without health coverage.
“This would enable our most vulnerable population to afford our most affordable housing,” he said.
A living wage would most likely not apply to everyone the city pays. The city staff recommends that the ordinance only apply to contractors who have more than six employees and contracts with the city in amounts greater than $25,000. Nonprofit organizations working with the city would only be required to comply with the ordinance if they employed more than 25 people and had contracts of $100,000 or more with the city.
City staff will continue researching the issue and developing an ordinance that will be brought back for a council vote at a later date.
Contact JEREMY OGUL at firstname.lastname@example.org.