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Supporters Back Bump in New Haven's Living Wage
New Haven Register
Abbe Smith

September 1, 2010
View the Original Article


NEW HAVEN — A proposal to dramatically expand the city’s Living Wage Ordinance drew dozens of supporters to City Hall Tuesday night for a public hearing on the controversial matter.

The plan also elicited warnings from city officials about the potential costs and legal repercussions of the far-reaching ordinance.

The matter was discussed for four hours Tuesday during a joint meeting of the aldermanic Legislation and Finance committees, and was ongoing at press time. The proposal was expected to be tabled until a future meeting.

The committee heard supportive testimony from representatives of the National Employment Law Project as well as the Connecticut Center for a New Economy. An attorney for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association spoke in opposition.

The plan as presented would bump the “living wage” from $12 per hour up to $14.67 per hour. It also would require health care coverage and paid sick leave for city employees.

Ady Barkan, an attorney speaking in favor of the ordinance on behalf of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, argued that the $14.67 hourly wage amounted to just under $30,000 a year.

“It’s very hard to raise a family on less than $30,000 a year,” he noted.

Barkan explained that the new ordinance would expand the class of people who are eligible. The proposal would extend the “living wage” to include contractors who work for subsidiaries of the city, such as the Board of Education and the Tweed Airport Authority. Additionally, it would affect private employers, such as nonprofits, that receive more than $100,000 in city assistance.

The revised ordinance also includes a priority hiring clause that would encourage employers to hire underprivileged job applicants and graduates of city high schools.

The proposal was introduced by aldermen Michael Jones, D-1, Roland Lemar, D-9, and Darnell Goldson, D-30. Formulators of the language in the new ordinance researched other cities that have successful Living Wage ordinances.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration remains opposed to the revised amendment.

“Living Wage is a good idea. The city has the right both legally and morally to set a living wage standard,” said city Chief of Staff Sean Matteson. He went on to say that the city supports increasing the wage from $12 to $12.50. Matteson warned that the most recent proposal would cost the city between $13 million and $30 million.

Lemar then complained that the new estimate was far above the original estimate of $106,000 provided by the city. He and Jones complained the city has dragged its feet in responding to their requests for information regarding the ordinance.

Matteson later explained that the original estimate was for an earlier version of the ordinance that did not include providing comprehensive health insurance to employees and families.

The committee also heard from Hartford City Councilman Luis Cotto, who said Hartford just implemented a similar expanded Living Wage ordinance.

“We did it in March of this year and the sky has not fallen,” he said.

But when Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield asked Cotto if Hartford had done a cost analysis of the ordinance, Goldfield appeared disappointed to learn that Hartford did not. Goldfield later said he has concerns about the breadth of the expanded ordinance and the lack of details about how the rules would actually work.

Several city residents spoke in favor of the ordinance and gave emotional examples of loved ones barely getting by on earnings far below the city’s living wage.