Syracuse Passes Living Wage Law

The Syracuse City Council passed an ordinance, on Monday, requiring all contractors with 5 or more employees and doing at least $20,000 in business with the city to pay a living wage – $10.01/hour if the company provides health benefits and $11.91 if it does not. Congratulations to all who organized over 3 years for this law and to the hundreds of working families that will benefit.

‘Living Wage’ Law Passes
Tuesday, May 24, 2005
By Frederic Pierce
Staff writer, Syracuse Post-Standard

Three years after refusing to force companies to pay workers a “living wage” when doing business with the city, the Syracuse Common Council Monday unanimously agreed to set the minimum wage for full-time city work at more than $10 an hour.

The revised “living wage” ordinance could begin raising the pay of as many as 200 parking lot attendants, school bus monitors and janitors in as little as three months, according to Local 200 of the Service Employees International Union.

Full-time employees who work directly for the city, all but a handful of whom already make more than the new minimum, are exempt from the law.

“This is a great step in the life of the working people in this community who’ve been working hard to raise their family above the poverty line,” said 4th District Councilor Tom Seals, the measure’s chief sponsor. “By approving the living wage ordinance, we will give them hope they can make it.”

The ordinance was Seals’ biggest campaign issue in 2002. His stance drew the support of the Working Families Party, which threw its resources behind him to beat the district’s incumbent councilor, Mike Atkins, in a Democratic primary.

“We proved in 2003 that there are real consequences for not supporting the living wage,” said Rick Oppedisano, chairman of the Working Families Party’s local chapter. “For three years, working people have been building power, and today we used it.”

All but one of the council’s nine voting members are up for re-election this fall.

The unanimous vote included the Democrat-dominated board’s sole Republican – 1st District Councilor Jeff DeFrancisco – as well as two councilors who voted against the original measure: 2nd District Councilor Marty Masterpole and 5th District Councilor Bill Simmons.

“I’ve been accused of making an election-year decision,” said Masterpole, who co-sponsored the measure Monday. “Well, every year is an election year. I voted my conscience then, and I’m voting my conscience now.”

Masterpole said he felt the original version was illegal because it required the city to change labor contracts that had been negotiated under state law. That proposal was defeated in a 6-3 vote.

The new measure, which exempts everyone paid directly by the city, was scheduled for a council decision last month. Some last-minute tweaking of the wording put off the vote until Monday.

The ordinance applies to anyone employed by a company with five or more employees that does at least $20,000 worth of work for the city.

Most of those workers are covered by negotiated contracts, and the new wage won’t begin showing up in their paychecks until their company’s contract with the city is up, and the work is put out to bid again, said Jerry Dennis, president of Local 200.

When that happens, no company will be able to come in with a low bid based on paying its workers less than $10.08 an hour, or $11.91 per hour if it does not provide health benefits.

“Hopefully, this will expand to other positions,” said Dennis, who estimates 50 to 100 members of his union will benefit from the ordinance. “It should make it easier for us to raise the wage of positions just above this level.”

For Eddie Walker, a parking attendant with All-Right Parking, the change is likely to mean a sizable boost from the $8 an hour he currently makes after three years on the job. Because All-Right has a month-to-month contract with the city, Walker is also likely to be one of the first workers to benefit from the new law.

“It means I won’t have to flip a coin to decide what bills I’m going to pay,” Walker said. “It means I can pay bills with a good heart. Now it’s like robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

© 2005 The Post-Standard. Used with permission.