Living wage prompts fiery debate among council members

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 11:57pm

After a round of fiery debate, the Metro Council Tuesday night adopted a new living wage for some of Metro’s lowest paid employees.

By voting for the same resolution, which is part of Mayor Karl Dean’s now-approved $1.52 billion budget, the council also approved a one-time, across-the-board 2 percent salary bonus for government employees, capped at $2,000 each. The bonus replaces an incremental pay plan for city employees that had been established years ago, but was never implemented.

Despite a handful of council members who complained Dean’s administration tucked the living-wage initiative into the larger pay plan, the resolution passed easily by a vote of 31-7 with one abstention.

At-large Councilwoman Megan Barry, the sponsor of the living-wage plan pushed by Dean, said the initiative is rooted in the principle that Metro shouldn’t pay full-time workers at levels that keep them in poverty.

“This is not about charity,” Barry said. “This is not about welfare, entitlement or creeping socialism. It is simply a recognition that the lowest level wage we currently pay as a municipal employer is not enough to live on with dignity and independence.”

But the scope of the new living-wage plan, which raises the minimum wage for city employees to $10.77 per hour, is limited. Only 14 Metro employees will actually see their salaries increase under the plan. By approving the resolution, council also requested that another 150 Metro employees — mostly Metro General Hospital workers — have their salaries increased. The request isn’t binding, however.

The Metro employee who stands to enjoy the biggest salary jump with the new minimum wage already makes $10.42 per hour; hence, a raise of 35 cents per hour is on the way. The new living-wage standard adds $7,300 to Metro’s budget for the next fiscal year.

“It’s meaningless,” said Councilwoman Emily Evans, who actually voted for the plan. “Fourteen people and $7,300 in lieu of a new pay plan for 10,000 employees. That’s what we’re doing.”

Most of seven council members who voted against the minimum wage hike, the majority self-described fiscal conservatives, decried the fashion in which the living-wage plan was grouped together with the separate 2 percent bonus plan.

“It’s the way that these were tied together,” said At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who voted against the resolution. “I think it’s a brilliant move, a very smart move, because it almost makes those of us that vote no vote against employees of this government.”

Others like Councilman Jim Gotto called the minimum wage hike a “fiscally irresponsible step” and warned of the slippery slope it could set.

“I’ve heard it said, ‘Oh, this only affects a few employees,’ ” Gotto said. “Well, if it only affects a few, why are we taking this step? I submit to you, I think this is the first step. The next step will be to require all vendors that do business with Metro government to pay the living wage. The next step after that will be to require all businesses operating in Davidson County to pay the living wage.”

But in the end, strong voices of opposition didn’t result in a significant coalition of votes.

“I just can’t imagine this city not wanting to pay a decent wage,” said Councilwoman Edith Langster, who supported the plan. “These people are working people. They’re not asking for anything free. They’re just asking to be treated fairly.”

Council members who voted against the pay-plan resolution were Michael Craddock, Eric Crafton, Duane Dominy, Robert Duvall, Randy Foster, Gotto and Tygard. Councilwoman Karen Bennett abstained.

10 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 6/16/10 at 5:01

Mrs Langster strikes again with another of her brilliant comments.
Fear not Davidson County because the wisdom and courage of the
Metro Council is with you!

By: frodo on 6/16/10 at 5:48

Is Councilmember Langster really that short-sighted, or does she hope everyone else is? When you raise the pay of the lowest wage workers, guess what happens? Now you have to raise the pay of their supervisors to keep ahead of them. And if the supervisor in one deprtment is now making more, what do you think happens to his brother-in-law n the other department? Now he wants more. And then there is the supervisor's supervisor, and on up the chain. Just go ahead and put a few of zeros after that $7300.

By: Blip on 6/16/10 at 6:48

I dare Michael Craddock, Eric Crafton, Duane Dominy, Robert Duvall, Randy Foster, Gotto and Tygard and Karen Bennett to try to live for a few months on the wages they want to pay city workers.

By: gdiafante on 6/16/10 at 8:20

"Only 14 Metro employees will actually see their salaries increase under the plan".

Yeah, I can see how this will spur a sudden pay growth for all city employees.

That was sarcasm.

By: AmyLiorate on 6/16/10 at 8:27

frodo, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! lol

Emily Evans sounds like a fairly sharp tack

By: on 6/16/10 at 8:52

The city workers had an opportunity at one time in their lives to better themselves and further their education. Obviously, they didn't take the opportunity, and ended up having to do work at lower wages. I'm really tired of people blaming other people for the way they turned out.

By: TharonChandler on 6/16/10 at 11:05

Boise, Idaho is similar to many other places in that is has a good array of nice and freindly and attractive people. It is yet Conservative, in high political circles, while the common people are as freindly and honest and attractive and as willing to help a stranger as anywhere on earth; and i been around. Being a 'Western' town it also employs some few Mexican men and mujeres, a more attractive variety of such than at some more touristy places such as Lake Tahoe (California; forget Nevada).

They have their own water supply at Boise as the river runs Cold and deep and swift. I swam in it yesterday before layin out in the arid local sun and it was of good as therapy as any pills; (but maybe not as good as also with pilsner or also the local hoppy beers they make here only in 22oz bottles). Peace.

By: gruntz on 6/16/10 at 2:50

Anything a government mandates that wouldn't normally occur WILL cause a mess eventually. People don't like mandates and they will go through unimaginable lengths to adjust, thus causing very negative unforseen consequences. Bank on it.
Minimum wage laws cause high unemployment among young unskilled laborers. These types of jobs are not meant for folks to try and raise a family with the money they earn. These jobs are mean't for teenagers, students and maybe young singles. The unforseen consequences of high youth unemployment are gangs and the accompanying decline of the neighbohoods where they live. Then, the government has to increase taxes to pay for the additional police it needs to maintain order. Then the higher than normal taxes drive businesses to the suburbs. ETC. ETC. ETC.

By: localboy on 6/17/10 at 8:36

Thanks, TharonChandler, for that on-point post ;)

By: bringingbackcom... on 6/26/10 at 4:16

"I am here to bring back common sense to the 4th councilmatic district, need I say more.!"

"To yahoo poo, when you are struck by the mighty hand of God you will wish you would have turned out different.!"

I am Stephen Downs and I have approved this message.