Tompkins County Workers’ Center Is Pleased to Welcome City of Ithaca Aboard as a Certified Living Wage Employer

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) is very pleased to welcome the City of Ithaca aboard as our 93rd Certified Living Wage Employer! With over 515 workers, the City is now the TCWC’s second largest Living Wage Employer (second only to Tompkins County). The City is also now the third governmental Living Wage Employer; following Tompkins County and the Town of Ithaca, which have both been long-time Living Wage Employers.

Having first met with Mayor Svante Myrick on this important issue of Living Wage Certification close to two years ago, and having lobbied City Council to approve the money needed in its budget last year, the TCWC very much applauds Myrick and the Council’s commitment to take care of business in what they can most directly be responsible for as an Employer. We also applaud the City’s Human Resources Director, Schelley Michell-Nunn, for being tireless in her efforts to smooth the way to this Certification.

While the City, in many ways, is already paying most of its workers a Living Wage due to most workers being represented by CSEA (Civil Service Employees Union) the move to become a Certified Living Wage Employer required raising the wages of approximately 55 temporary and seasonal workers. This comes to a cost to the City of approximately $45,000 in the first year (which, in essence, was only a quarter of a year). A Living Wage, updated every two years by Alternatives Federal Credit Union in Ithaca, is presently defined as $12.62/hour, or $13.94/hour without health insurance being provided.

The Living Wage Employer Certification Program was started by the TCWC in 2006. It was the first such program in the entire country, and is beginning to be modeled elsewhere. In fact, the TCWC is happy to report that the national organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, based in Chicago, is intending to take our program nationally in the coming year!

For the Workers’ Center (which began as the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition back in 2003), the issue of wages adequate for people to live–a Living Wage–is both a moral as well as financial imperative. Moral because no one in this world should have to work and also live in poverty. This is simply unjust and unfair. It is a financial imperative simply because the potential for economic stimulation to the economy as a result of people having more money to spend is a simple no-brainer!

Be it with a carrot or a stick, it is central to the Workers’ Center vision that everyone in Tompkins County be paid a Living Wage. So whether we campaign to successfully get the multinational Sodexo Corporation at Ithaca College to pay its workers a Living Wage; whether we campaign to ensure that all County-contracted workers are paid a Living Wage; whether we campaign to ensure that all Wal-Mart, other big box store and fast food workers are paid a Living Wage; or whether we reward those employers that see the wisdom of paying their workers a Living Wage and become Certified as a Living Wage Employer, we are confident that we, as a people, are ona move!

Historically, it has been nice for the TCWC to be able to say: If Autumn Leaves Used Books and Buffalo Street Books can pay a Living Wage, why can’t Barnes and Nobles and Borders? If GreenStar Food Coop can pay a Living Wage, then why can’t Wegmans, Tops, and P and C? Now it is very nice to say: If the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the Town of Ithaca can pay a Living Wage, why can’t Danby, Caroline, Trumansburg, and Newfield?

We as consumers can play an important role in ensuring that no one works for poverty wages. We can attempt to shop only at those employers that are doing the right thing, paying a Living Wage. And we can let those employers not paying a Living Wage know what we expect!