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Minimum Waged

City Council to vote on living-wage guarantee for full-time employees.

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If City Council member TaJuan Stout Mitchell has her way, full-time city employees earning less than $10 an hour will receive a living wage by July 1st.

"I have a strong moral conviction that the living wage is right," Mitchell said at a City Council committee meeting last week. "How can we employ others to install a living wage in our city if we're not a shining example?" A report from human resources director Lorene Essex shows that 29 full-time city employees -- mostly clerical workers -- currently earn less than $10 an hour, or the living wage. The cost to grant those workers a living wage would be around $293,000 a year in salary increases, said Essex. All 29 employees already receive health benefits.

In a 2004 memo from then city finance director Joseph Lee, 519 people were listed as not making a living wage. At that time, the cost of raising their wages was said to be an additional $2.7 million.

The Living Wage Coalition believes the memo quoted an inflated living wage. Essex pointed out that since that data was collected in 2003, many of those workers have already received raises to boost their pay to $10 an hour. The coalition has been pushing for a living-wage ordinance that includes health benefits since 2003. They'd also like the ordinance to require companies that receive tax freezes or city contracts to pay their workers a living wage.

"We're certainly pleased that the council is making some movement on the living wage, but what we want to see is a comprehensive ordinance that covers the city contracts and tax freezes," said Rebekah Jordan, director of the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice and a member of the coalition.

While Mitchell's resolution is only expected to cover full-time city employees, she said she'd like to see companies that receive PILOTs (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) pay their employees a median income of $35,000 a year, well above the $20,000 a year advocated by the Living Wage Coalition.

"We shouldn't invest in a company that brings jobs where people still qualify for food stamps," Mitchell said.

The committee also discussed a possible future resolution to raise wages for temporary workers. Essex said the city employs about 700 temporary workers, most of whom are seasonal.

Council member Carol Chumney said that other city services may need to be eliminated to implement the living wage ordinance because of city financial woes.

But Jordan said a financial crisis is the perfect time to move forward with the ordinance.

"When there's not enough revenue, we shouldn't be continuing to give away tax freezes to companies without requiring any accountability from them," said Jordan.

The full council is expected to discuss the resolution next week.

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