In response to pressure from the Tompkins County Workers’ Center and a group of concerned citizens, the Tompkins County Legislature has created a Living Wage Working Group to review its current Living Wage Policy as it relates to businesses that have service contracts with the County.
The TCWC’s goal is to ensure that the Tompkins County Legislature’s commitment to a Living Wage extends to individuals employed by businesses and organizations that contract with the County. Our work, and why we come to you now, is to insure that the Legislature will strengthen the language in its service contracts to require sub-contractors to pay at least a Living Wage, recently updated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union to $12.62/hour or $13.94/hour without health insurance.
We expect the issue to move from the Working Group to the full Legislature in June and July. (Since this is a County issue, we ask that you sign only if you live in Tompkins County).
We recognize that some local nonprofit agencies truly may not be able to afford to pay their workers at least a Living Wage. We do not want to risk a reduction in nonprofit services to the community, thus we are agreeing to the potential of a small increase in County taxes to help subsidize the Living Wage where absolutely necessary.
Sign the Petition That Says: I Am in Support of a Living Wage for All Tompkins County Contracted Workers and Workers Employed by Businesses That Receive Economic or Community Development Assistance
Dreaming of a well-paying job in the fracking industry? Think twice.
While jobs in fracking may offer high pay, they come at a price. A worker may get a job — and never be able to work again. Workers are often the first to be exposed to the hazards that later affect the whole community.
There are three health and safety areas that affect fracking workers:
1) Chemical exposures. NIOSH is only beginning to investigate, and it is hard to pinpoint cause and effect, because companies disclose only a small part of the chemicals they use. However, injured workers are beginning to speak out: https://www.facebook.com/GasVets. These workers are finally finding one another and determining that there is a pattern to their severe illnesses.
Randy Moyer of Portage PA was disabled by exposure to chemicals and radiation. He states emphatically that fracking must be stopped. His symptoms are painful rashes, headaches, migraines, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, back and leg pains, blurred vision, vertigo, memory loss, white noise in his ears, and difficulties breathing. Footage of his and others’ testimony will soon be available in Tompkins County.
The chemical exposure issues are also of concern to first responders.
2) Exposure to sand dust. http://www.environmentalhealthproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/OSHA_NIOSH-Hazard-Alert.pdf
3) Trucking and machinery accidents. http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/11/fracking-safety-north-dakota
Thus the claims that fracking could even temporarily provide good jobs must be met with skepticism.
[Editor's Note: The following Opinion piece appeared in both the Syracuse Post-Standard as well as the Ithaca Journal, and was written by TCWC Member and Cofounder, Carl Feuer, also of the Midstate Council on Occupational Health and Safety.)
Improving Farm Safety
Too many of our nation’s workplaces are still hazardous to the health and safety of workers. And farming is the most hazardous of them all.
On February 5th an Ithaca man died from injuries he sustained when he became entangled in an auger-type device on a bedding machine while working on a Tompkins County dairy farm. An immigrant to this country, he was a long-time employee of the farm.
Joining his family, co-workers, employer and friends in mourning his death is not enough. We also need to make farm work a safer occupation. How can we do this?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2011 there were 24 fatal work-related injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. This was the highest fatality rate for any industry, more than mining, almost three times the rate in construction, and about eight times the national average for all industries. Worse, while the overall fatality rate has been declining in recent years, it is rising in agriculture.
How much does it cost for a single person working full-time to live in Tompkins County? According to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union bi-annual Living Wage Study, released this morning, May 3rd, it is $26,242.21 a year or $12.62/hour. Alternatives’ Board of Directors voted unanimously to raise wages to the new Living Wage level, continuing its commitment to its employees and as a role model for the community.
The updated study looks at housing, transportation, healthcare, and other necessities, as well as a modest allowance for recreation and savings. The new Living Wage figure is an increase of 8.11% from $11.67/hour two years ago, during a period that the Consumer Price Inflation Calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the CPI up 5.29% from the end of 2010 to the end of 2012. Health care and food costs increased more than the CPI; rent increased less. The net wage, the amount the employee takes home, is up 4.74%, but a big jump in taxes drove the gross figure above the inflation rate. The figure represents the Living Wage for an individual whose employer provides health insurance. For employers that don’t offer health insurance, an additional $1.32/hour (or $13.96/hour) would be needed to purchase insurance from Healthy NY.
Leni Hochman, Chief Operations Officer, oversees the study. She is sympathetic to small businesses and organizations that want to pay a Living Wage but have difficulty doing so. She has less sympathy for businesses and organizations that could afford to pay a Living Wage, but choose not to. Hochman says, “You can see staff as an expense to be limited or as an asset to be maximized. While others recognize and pay for ‘talent’ at the top, Alternatives knows that it is our front line staff that makes community members choose Alternatives as their financial institution.” Paying a Living Wage has business advantages as well in the form of reduced employee turnover and absenteeism, lower recruitment and training costs, and improved morale and commitment to the company.
Further, Hochman asserts that paying a Living Wage has a ripple effect in the community. When people are paid enough to support themselves, they no longer need to rely on public assistance in the form of housing subsidies, medical assistance, food stamps, and welfare, which are paid for in everyone’s taxes. People earning a Living Wage pay more taxes and buy more goods and services in the local economy. Recent economic research concludes that there is little or no job reduction associated with wage increases, and the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences.
As a single mother, Tierra Labrada spoke to her ability to be able to get off government assistance once she was paid a Living Wage.
On May 1st, International Workers Day, Over 60 People Attend Tompkins County Living Wage Working Group Hearings On County Contracts
Over 60 people attended Wednesday’s Public Hearing on Living Wages, with the overwhelming vast majority saying that Living Wages should be paid to all workers that are employed by Contractors with the County. A good portion of the speakers characterize paying a Living Wage as the morally right thing to do and a practice that benefits the entire community and addresses income inequality in today’s society. The conversation has reached enough of a fever pitch, thanks to Solid Waste workers, Stanley McPherson and Milton Webb (who work with ReCommunity Recycling) who believe they should be making a Living wage.
While expressing support in concept for payment of the livable wage, several representatives of non-profit organizations cautioned, however, that they face financial constraints, imposed by factors such as outside reimbursement levels, which make it difficult or impossible for them to pay a livable wage to all employees, without having to cut staff or receiving extra support from the County to fill the gap.
New Roots Charter School, located in downtown Ithaca, and with approximately 30 workers, recently unionized. Our Workers Rights Hotline and our organizing efforts were critical factors. The New Roots workers contacted us through the Hotline in October 2012, expressing interest in unionizing, but what union would help? We quickly hooked them up with organizers from New York State United Teachers (NYSUT/AFT). The Board and management of New Roots Charter School quickly decided to ‘voluntarily recognize’ the union without having to go through a vote: something exceedingly rare in labor history. The staff, Board and management are now preparing to negotiate their first contract.
JOINT STATEMENT ABOUT VOLUNTARY RECOGNITION OF New Roots Charter School Instructional Staff Association
On February 7, 2013, the New Roots Charter School Board of Trustees voted unanimously to voluntarily recognize the New Roots Charter School Instructional Staff Association. Principal Tina Nilsen-Hodges advocated for the board to take this action, saying “I support voluntary recognition because my philosophy and practice as school leader is to get behind staff initiatives intended to help us move towards our common goals.” The agreement was signed by Dr. Jason Hamilton, Chairman of the Board, and Zachary Lind, faculty member.
Tompkins County Workers’ Center and New York State Minimum Wage Coalition Comments on Agreement to Raise New York’s Minimum Wage to $9.00/hour Over Three Years: Minimum Wage Should Be a Living Wage!
Labor, business, community, religious and policy groups from around the state, including the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, reacted to the agreement by the legislature and Governor Cuomo to increase New York’s minimum wage over the next three years, as part of the state budget being voted on in late March 2013.
The agreement includes a commitment that Governor Cuomo will use the Department of Labor wage board process to determine the appropriate raise for thousands of tipped restaurant workers whose base wage – currently $5.00 per hour – will not automatically be raised under the budget deal.
As part of the agreement, Senate negotiators demanded the creation of a wasteful tax credit give-away, which will give low-wage employers like Walmart and McDonalds millions in taxpayer funds, and create dangerous incentives for employers to replace adult workers with teens and to keep teens at the minimum wage and not a dime more. [For more detail on this unprecedented tax credit, see Fiscal Policy Institute, “The Many Problems with New York’s Proposed Minimum Wage Reimbursement Credit.”]
Wednesday, March 20, 6:30 p.m.: Tompkins Industrial Development Agency (IDA) Holds Vote on Granting Tax Subsidies to Proposed Marriott Hotel in Downtown Ithaca
The Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) is voting Wednesday evening at a 6:30 meeting on whether or not to grant a property tax abatement to the developers of the proposed new Marriott Hotel to be built at the east end of the Commons. The City of Ithaca has recommended the project under a new policy that no longer takes wages or environment into consideration, only location, height and increase in assesed value.
The IDA Public Meeting will be held tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at the Tompkins County Courthouse’s Legislative Chambers (2nd floor). PUBLIC COMMENT WILL BE ALLOWED AT THE MEETING, to exceed no more than 3 minutes.
Most members of the IDA are elected officials, so we hope that they will listen to comments from the public. We need to tell them that it’s not real economic development if it doesn’t produce Living Wage jobs. We can also address environmental questions and diversity in hiring.
The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is pleased to announce that we now have certified 85 employers as being Living Wage Employers, having just added the following:
• Gadabout Transportation Services
Gadabout Transportation Services employ a total of 27 workers; this brings the total of workers, countywide and regionally, who are working for Living Wage Employers up to over 2,464 people.
Thanks to one of our marvelous members and supporters, Jeff Furman, for this excellent opinion piece that appeared in the Huffington Post recently. Jeff serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream.
With working families in New York still struggling to make ends meet in this sluggish economic recovery, Albany lawmakers should consider a full range of policies to create jobs and boost economic growth when the new legislative session begins in January. For the sake of New York’s lowest-paid workers — and for the countless businesses across the state whose sales are shrinking because too many consumers cannot afford basic expenses — raising New York’s minimum wage must be the very first order of business.