A group of aldermen and Yale students are submitting a proposal to expand New Haven’s living-wage ordinance, continuing a campaign that started last spring but faltered during the summer months.
The proposed ordinance, which the Board of Aldermen will hear at its meeting on Monday, would expand the living wage, which now applies only to city contractors, to include businesses receiving over $100,000 in city subsidies or financial assistance, such as tax deferrals, and would require employers who do not provide health benefits to pay employees an additional $1.50 an hour. The current living wage is $11.10 an hour. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has not yet decided whether he would support changing the living wage ordinance, said Rob Smuts ’01, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.
“We’re looking forward to working with the board to figure out whether an extension to our current living-wage ordinance would make sense,” he said.
Whitney Haring-Smith ’07, executive director of New Haven Action, said the living wage would help citizens maintain an adequate standard of living in the Elm City.
“The living-wage bill will ensure that when the city provides financial assistant to business and contractors, they pay those wages,” Haring-Smith said.
Noah Kazis ’09, who has been working with Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek ’05 and New Haven Action to promote the bill, said the response has been very positive, though he said it is difficult at this point to know the exact number of workers and employers who would benefit from the new provisions.
“It’s proven that it doesn’t cost the city, it doesn’t hurt business — it’s one of the rare finds that just makes sense as a policy,” he said.
The bill, Kazis said, would not apply to firms with fewer than 25 employees, but some details have yet to be worked out, such as how to adjust the wage to account for rising health-care costs.
The bill would also create an oversight body of individuals appointed by the mayor, the president of the board, and the labor community to ensure that the new regulations function effectively.
“These kinds of things do change pretty quickly, which is why eight years after the last one we’re having a large revision, and creating an oversight body will help greatly,” Kazis said.
Nicole Jefferson, executive director of New Haven’s Commission of Equal Opportunities, said it is difficult to know exactly how many employees are affected by the current living-wage bill. The bill currently applies to those working on city-funded construction only, she said, and workers on state or federally funded projects, such as New Haven’s ongoing school construction project, are generally paid a higher wage.
Jefferson also said that in her four years of working for the city, she has never heard a contractor complain about the $11.10 living wage, which is lower than the wage some contractors are currently paying their employees.
“They never squawk at that, and I’ve never had any complaints,” she said. “In my opinion, it’s too low.”
But some economists say the living wage could hurt business and drive up the costs of goods and services. Carl F. Horowitz, who has published an article about the problems of the living wage for the libertarian Cato Institute, said the idea of creating a living wage, as opposed to allowing for market-rate salaries to prevail, is faulty, especially as the cost of living continues to rise in metropolitan areas.
“When you force an employer to pay somebody more than what the person is worth, without any corresponding increase in productivity, you necessarily diminish the profitability of the enterprise,” he said. “Workers have every right to organize and demand higher wages … but that is not what it is. This is a declaration by fiat.”
Dan Weeks ’06, who spoke extensively about the living wage during his campaign for Ward 1 alderman last spring, said the expansion has been discussed for more than a year. But an effort last spring to pass the bill failed, he said, when students left for the summer and a key supporter of the measure, former Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, took ill. Voigt, who worked with former Ward 1 Alderman Josh Civin ’96 to pass the ordinance in 1997, passed away last October.