Living Wage Bills
In Pittsburgh Region
The week Harvard University students ended their three-week
sit-in to demand a living wage for the university’s lowest-paid workers, UE
leaders lent their weight to efforts here to enact living wage legislation.
On May 12, Genl. Pres. John Hovis submitted a statement
to the Allegheny County Council in support of an ordinance; on May 8, District
Six Pres. John Lambiase testified on behalf of similar legislation
pending before the Pittsburgh City Council. (Allegheny County encompasses
Pittsburgh and adjacent cities and towns.)
Living wage legislation is currently pending statewide in
Vermont and in five or more cities in states including California,
Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
LIVING WAGE CAMPAIGNS
Beginning in 1994, unions, religious and community
organizations have attempted to raise workers’ wages above the federal
poverty level for a family of four — to a living wage — through
legislation at the city and county levels. UE was active in support of living
wage campaigns in Baltimore, Boston and Los Angeles, among other cities.
The Allegheny County bill, for example, would impose a $9.12
an hour wage, or $10.62 if employers failed to provide health insurance. Each
of the city and county laws around the country vary somewhat; the Allegheny
County proposal would apply to the county’s service contractors as well as
those companies that receive subsidies or other benefits from county
government. An estimated 4,000 low-wage workers would benefit immediately.
Pres. Hovis emphasized that economic development in the
Pittsburgh region has been built on the labor of low-wage workers — workers
who are also county taxpayers. "This region’s working people have a
right to fair compensation," Hovis stated.
The UE leader pointed out that living wage legislation would
be a form of economic development, pumping money back into the local economy,
promoting productivity and encouraging stability.
'NO EXCUSE FOR POVERTY WAGES'
Lambiase, president of the union’s western Pennsylvania
district and a Pittsburgh resident, made a similar point. He shared with
Pittsburgh councilors the union’s experience in organizing a low-wage shop
in Erie in the early 1990s. Wages were so low, he said, that potential hires
were given public assistance forms along with the job application forms. With
organization came not only higher living standards for workers but workplace
"There is no excuse to have poverty wages in our
community," Lambiase declared.
After decades of "trickle-down" and
"voodoo" economics, the District Six president said, it’s time for
some "trickle-up" for a change. He insisted that the city council
enact the ordinance as "the only right thing to do."
Harvard students had taken direct action to force the
university administration to recognize that about 400 of the posh school’s
13,000 employees earn less than $10.25 an hour. Harvard had previously said
the issue was closed, but due to the sit-in, agreed to re-examine university
Unions actively backed the students, sometimes acting as a
go-between with the administration. Showing respect for the janitors whose
cause they adopted, the protesting students left the administration building
they had occupied for three weeks neat and tidy.
UE News - 05/01