Irvine could expand 'living wage' law
Council votes 3-2 to add city-contracted workers to the proposed standard.
By SONYA SMITH
IRVINE WORLD NEWS
The city is drafting a law to expand its minimum pay standard to include contract workers along with city employees who already receive at least $10 an hour plus benefits.
Irvine is the only city in the county with a "living wage" law, and Tuesday night the council voted 3-2 (with Christina Shea and Steven Choi dissenting) to have staff add a minimum for contract workers on hourly wage. The intent is to raise their annual salaries above the national poverty line.
"We ought to set a standard that anybody paid by the city is paid at least $10 an hour," said Councilman Larry Agran, who suggested the concept. "We need to join other United States cities that are not just satisfied with paying a minimum wage."
Shea and Choi both voted for creating the minimum for city employees, but said Tuesday that they feel uncomfortable imposing the standard on city-contracted businesses.
"It sounds great, but there are lots of technicalities to look into to see if this would really solve the poverty problem," Choi said.
City staff will research whether the hourly wage would increase with the cost-of-living index, what city contracts the law would include, and estimates of what the ordinance would cost the city. The staff's rough estimate, based on service contracts in the 2006-07 fiscal year, was that the expanded ordinance would cost the city $700,000. Staff will return to the council in about a month with its findings.
A living wage is typically created so that on a full-time basis, wages are equal to or greater than the amount required to bring a family of four above the federal poverty line, according to a consultant's study of living wages. The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services' 2006 guidelines indicate $20,000 as the poverty threshold for a family of four.
Advocates say a living wage is needed for those at the bottom of the economic ladder to afford basic necessities. Opponents – mostly businesses and economists – say a living wage will lead to fewer jobs.
Of California's 478 incorporated cities, 20 have passed some form of a living wage ordinance, according to the ACORN Living Wage Resource Center, an agency advocating the practice.
"A living wage sends a message to workers that work is rewarded," said Jenn Kern, director of the center. "If you work, you shouldn't be poor."
Jill Jenkins, chief economist for the Employment Policies Institute, said that a living wage could mean Irvine contract prices would rise because of less competition and higher labor costs. That could mean a Great Park price higher than the $1.1 billion estimate, lost city services and higher taxes because of increased government costs, she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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