Take living wage to next level

Hats off to the city of Asheville for recognizing the importance of paying city staff a living wage! They made it happen for employees in 2007, so it only seems appropriate that they [now] extend that courtesy to those folks who do contract work with the city. A living wage [requirement] for city contractors will stop the race for the lowest bid on projects, which leaves many contractors with no choice but to pay low wages.

I know that more and more employers are recognizing the worth of paying their employees a living wage ($11.35 per hour without benefits, $9.85 per hour with health insurance). Seventy local employers in Buncombe County have been living-wage certified in the last year. If the private sector can do it, why can’t Asheville take the next step towards becoming a living-wage city?

The cost of paying a living wage [through contracts] probably won’t have a major effect on the city’s budget. In fact, a 2003 survey of 20 cities found that the actual budgetary effect of living-wage laws has been consistently overestimated by city administrators. The actual cost tended to be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the overall budget! What are we waiting for, everybody?

Let’s demand better of our city, so that our local government can be a proud leader in building a strong and sustainable local economy that works for all. They’ve already gotten halfway there; we just need to make sure they don’t overlook their core values when hiring contractors to perform work for the city.

Keep your eyes peeled, as this issue should be coming up on the City Council agenda soon. Just Economics is leading this living-wage effort (www.justeconomicswnc.org). Let’s make sure that our elected officials vote in favor of fair wages and not in favor of cheap labor.

— Sara Levine

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