Living wage ordinance stalled, not gone

A proposal to expand New Haven’s living wage ordinance, co-sponsored by Ward 1 Alderman Mile Jones ’11, is stalled at the Board of Aldermen.

The proposed legislation would increase the wage the city is required to pay workers employed through city contracts and city-funded programs. First introduced in April, the bill seeks to raise the living wage from $12, significantly above the state’s minimum wage, to $14.67. The bill was tabled after a heated debate about its affordability at the Board of Aldermen in September. Jones, a leading proponent, insists that the bill is not dead.

“This is absolutely still on the table,” he said. “Anyone who’s making $12 an hour is still having to rely on social safety net services; that’s problematic in a city that likes to call itself progressive.”

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and several city officials publicly opposed the bill, saying it was too broad and too costly. DeStefano slammed the bill at a press conference and said the expansion could cost the city $15 million and is unaffordable given the tight city budget.

Other aldermen raised questions as well.

“We’re starting [the next year] right off with an $8 million deficit,” said Ward 7 Alderwoman Francis “Bitsie” Clark. “It’s not a simple thing — it’s extremely complicated.”

Clark said the big question is how it would affect small businesses and small nonprofits.

The proposed expansion would include all employees who work on projects funded by the city or receiving city assistance and grants — including nonprofits.

“The devil is in the details,” Clark said. “Are you favor of motherhood and apple pie? Am I in favor of the living wage? Yes. Suppose the apple pie came with a thousand different strings. And suppose the motherhood isn’t a good motherhood. I’m for the living wage … but can it be done right now? There are other aspects to this.”

While supporters of the bill say the mission of the bill is to help government workers avoid poverty, its opponents say it is unfair for the city to force employers to pay employees more without increasing their funding.

The plan includes a preference to hire students or graduates of New Haven public schools, Gateway Community College students or participants in registered career centers.

Jones said he remains open to suggestions: “We can make compromises on both the fiscal and legislative language,” he said.

The original living wage legislation, passed in 1997, was drafted by former Ward 1 Alderman Josh Civin ’96.

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