What is A Living Wage?

Communities and groups grapple with this question. A corporate manager said "... the wages paid our workers are "living wages" because the workers are alive..." We suspect this is one extreme view!

In Ithaca, NY the GreenStar Cooperative Market published an article "Livable Wage, Liveable Jobs" (page 4 of their March 2003 newsletter "Green Leaf"). It describes the Livable Wage Project- a national effort by natural food cooperatives to examine livable wage models. The article includes a discussion of how the model derives a livable wage. Using the Cooperative Grocer's Information Network (CGIN) Livable Wage Task Force model, GreenStar arrived at a livable wage floor, before benefits, of $9.25 per hour. After considering GreenStar's generous benefits package, $7.41 per hour was required to achieve the livable wage target.

Elmira, NY has had recent discussions at a City Council level. The Southern Tier Labor-Religion Coalition proposed a Living Wage Initiative of $9.00 an hour plus benefits.


A Living Wage Proposal by Darin Robbins,
Green Party Candidate for Corning City Council


1. educate public about what a living wage is

2. introduce living wage resolution on city level

a. law requiring city employees to be paid a living wage

b. law requiring city-contracted employees to be paid a living wage

c. law requiring all businesses within city limits to pay a living wage

3. set example for other communities to implement a living wage

Need For A Living Wage

1. largest gap between rich and poor existed in New York state at its

highest economic point in the past decade (12.8 to 1)

a. ratio is of the top fifth of families with the bottom fifth (12.8 to 1)

2. this gap has grown the fastest in the last two business cycles

3. the poor has seen a drop in income to create this disparity

a. New York as one of five states that has seen the average income of the lower fifth of families decline

Sources Of Inequality

1. wage inequality

a. middle and lower wages have either stayed the same or declined

b. minimum wage has failed as a floor

c. upper wages have increased (21%)

2. less manufacturing jobs and more service jobs (manufacturing insuring a higher wage)

3. investment income inequality

a. 79% of investment gains in 1998 belonged to 3% of those who earn more than $200,000

Support For A Living Wage

1. wage mobility occurs in higher income brackets

2. data takes into account families and general income besides wages

3. living wage eliminates need for government assistance (saving money on

welfare and social services)

Elements of a Living Wage Ordinance

1. wage level

a. choosing base wage

b. indexing

2. health benefits

a. calculate a two-tiered living wage for jobs with and without benefits and base it on standard coverage from state's biggest insurer

b. define "health benefits" as simply equivalent to the gap between required wage for those who pay benefit and those who don't

3. scope of coverage

a. direct city or county employees

b. city/county contractors or subcontractors

c. recipients of city/county economic development assistance or subsidies

d. contractors of economic development assistance recipients

e. tenants or leaseholders of economic development assistance recipients

f. tenants on city property or city as tenant

g. public authorities, corporations, or agencies (ports, airports, economic development arms, school districts, transit agencies, public housing authorities)

4. covered workers

a. part time, full time, temporary, or independent contractor

b. all workers employed by covered employer or restricted to those on contract

c. covered for hours worked on project only

5. thresholds for coverage

a. by dollar value of contract or subsidy

b. by number of employees

c. different thresholds for different types of assistance

d. for for-profits and non-profits

e. make clear that separate contracts from same company in same year be aggregated

f. for contracts for any service to city

g. for contracts for the same service to the city

6. monitoring, disclosure, and enforcement

a. which city agency is enforcement agency

b. what is the process for determining which firms are covered

c. what company reporting will be required

d. other monitoring obligations of city

e. how will workers be notified of rights upon hire or posting requirement

f. how will worker complaints be handled

g. how will violations be handled

h. annual reporting on living wage compliance to city council

i. community advisory board mandated in ordinance in order to give activists continued voice in implementation and enforcement

7. Duration of coverage

a. On contracts or leases

b. For subsidies

c. Indefinitely as best option

d. Until subsidy ends or certain amount of years, whichever is longer

e. 5 years (several ordinances have used this measure)

8. possible add-ons

a. community hiring or community posting of new positions

b. vacation days and/or sick leave not eroded by higher taxes or loss of means-tested benefits

c. union-friendly language and organizing

d. worker retention

e. ban on use of public money for anti-union activities

f. right of equal access by unions to workplaces located on city-owned or controlled property

g. community oversight board

h. reporting and regular disclosure of wage and hiring

i. incentives for training workers




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