(Ithaca) A year and a half ago, Milton Webb and Stanley McPherson, two workers with ReCommunity Recycling (which was taken over by Casella Waste Systems in early 2014), a subcontractor with the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division, approached the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) wondering why they weren’t making a Living Wage, considering the fact that they were doing the business of the County, which is a Certified Living Wage Employer. After a joint campaign that was made possible by the teamwork of an absolute variety of players, today we celebrate a huge victory in the step to ensure that all Tompkins County ‘contracted workers’ are paid a Living Wage.
The details of the victory include an allocation from the Tompkins County Legislature’s Living Wage Contingency Fund of $20,000, as well as a commitment to pay a Living Wage coming from Casella Waste Systems. Casella estimates that it will cost an additional $105,000/year to increase all their workers to a Living Wage. The agreement will enable workers at the County’s Recycling and Solid Waste Center to all be paid a Living Wage (presently $12.62/hour or $13.94 without health insurance) beginning in early February 2015. The allocation, just approved at today’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote, will now go to a full Legislature vote on Tuesday, January 6th.
This successful campaign is a great example of the ‘concerted action’ of two workers in the workplace acting in solidarity with each other, and in coordination with a community campaign as organized by the TCWC alongside many supportive County Legislative members. As Casella worker, Milton Webb says: “This was a team effort with the Workers’ Center and the Legislature. From the bottom of our hearts, Stanley and I want to say thank you. (Listen to audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKOgY8RcRuM)
Added Webb: ” You know, the guys who are working here do a lot of good work, we work hard and we need that Living Wage. For all of us that are receiving nine or ten dollars an hour and getting bumped up to over $12.62, we really appreciate this. Everybody at the Recycling Facility is excited about it. We have a Living Wage coming that is going to uplift these workers. They will have the pay that they need and that they deserve. They’ll have money to put in the bank. For what we’re getting paid now, there is no option for saving money. This will make things better for families, for the economy, for everybody. The money will be spent right here in Ithaca. To all of the people who don’t earn a Living Wage because they’re employer won’t pay a Living Wage, hang in there, it’s coming.”
Throughout 2013, Webb and McPherson, along with the TCWC, lobbied the Tompkins Legislature and larger public saying that no one that contracts with the County for services should be making less than a Living Wage. In the fall of 2013, the TCWC urged the Legislature to set aside funds to boost contracted workers up to a Living Wage, which the Legislature did by creating a $100,000 Living Wage Contingency Fund in November of 2013.
Says Nathan Shinagawa, Chair of the County’s Government Operations Committee, “We made it a top goal to make sure we use this money to uplift workers. We now pay a living wage to the workers of Food Net (Meals on Wheels) and, in the new budget, we passed a Living Wage for the workers of the Suicide Prevention Center and The Literacy Volunteers. I’m glad that starting in February, the workers of the Recycling and Solid Waste Center will also receive a Living Wage.”
“Change would not have been possible without the Workers’ Center and the individual efforts of Stanley and Milton. Their organizing led directly to legislative action. This is truly responsive, progressive government in action”, added Shinagawa. “Today, all Tompkins County employees and 1,788 of 1,994 contracted employees receive a Living Wage. I’m proud to live in and represent a community that makes a Living Wage a priority.”
Says County Legislator Carol Chock, who cosponsored legislation along with Shinagawa that created the Living Wage Contingency Fund: “We shouldn’t even be discussing whether or when to achieve a livable wage for all workers, it is in the interests of all of us that anybody who works be able to support their own basic expenses.”
“A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of a partial victory by which new efforts are powered.”–Martin Luther King, Jr., from ‘Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community”