â€œAs 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,â€ said Wade. â€œItâ€™s still difficult trying to make ends meet with twelve dollars but with that extra coming in it will definitely make life easier.â€
Two years ago, Pete Meyers of the Workersâ€™ 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 Workersâ€™ Center, he knew immediately that he wanted to make it happen, for two reasons.
â€œThe first is personal,â€ he says. â€œI was raised by a single mother who never made a living wage, still doesnâ€™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.â€
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.
â€œWeâ€™ll never know what mind is going to waste because their parents right now are making a minimum wage,â€ said Myrick, â€œwho 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 didnâ€™t have a chance early in life.â€
Charlene Santos has been a program assistant at GIAC for four years and says the raise has already changed her life. â€œMost of my money goes to rent,â€ said Santos, â€œI was enrolled in school but I had to withdraw because I couldnâ€™t afford it. Thanks to this raise Iâ€™ve been able to enroll in school again.â€
The Workersâ€™ Center applauds the City of Ithaca and encourages other municipalities to follow suit. â€œIf the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the Town of Ithaca can pay a living wage, why canâ€™t Danby, Caroline, Trumansburg, and Newfield?â€ asks Meyers.
The Tompkins County Workersâ€™ Center was the first organization in the country to offer a living wage certification. The program began in 2006.