China Wade

“As a single parent that extra couple of dollars may not seem like much to others, but it will go a long way as far as helping with bills and stuff you could not normally afford on a nine dollar an hour job,” said Wade. “It’s still difficult trying to make ends meet with twelve dollars but with that extra coming in it will definitely make life easier.”

Two years ago, Pete Meyers of the Workers’ Center approached Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick and City Director of Human Resources Schelley Michell-Nunn about becoming certified. Although most City of Ithaca employees were already receiving a living wage, there were 55 seasonal and temporary employees who were not.

When Myrick was approached by the Workers’ Center, he knew immediately that he wanted to make it happen, for two reasons.

“The first is personal,” he says. “I was raised by a single mother who never made a living wage, still doesn’t, and I know how difficult that is. I told myself if I was ever in a position, if I myself had employees, that I would do better for them. So when Pete and Schelley gave me the opportunity to do better, I was excited to work with them. The second reason is because I feel we need to be an example to other employers, to other governments, to state and federal governments.”

The cost to the City of becoming a living wage employer, paying $12.62 an hour with benefits, will be around $100,000 a year.

Myrick spoke to the financial gains of increasing the buying power of the lowest paid employees and the social benefits of decreasing the number of children raised in poverty.

“We’ll never know what mind is going to waste because their parents right now are making a minimum wage,” said Myrick, “who will never make it to college, who will never make that breakthrough cure, who will never cure cancer, or never write a symphony, or never start for the New York Knicks, because they didn’t have a chance early in life.”

Charlene Santos has been a program assistant at GIAC for four years and says the raise has already changed her life. “Most of my money goes to rent,” said Santos, “I was enrolled in school but I had to withdraw because I couldn’t afford it. Thanks to this raise I’ve been able to enroll in school again.”

The Workers’ Center applauds the City of Ithaca and encourages other municipalities to follow suit. “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?” asks Meyers.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center was the first organization in the country to offer a living wage certification. The program began in 2006.