Five years of effort culminated Tuesday night as the Santa
Barbara City Council voted to approve a Living Wage Ordinance for
city contract workers. The 5-2 vote in favor was greeted by a full
house of rhythmic clapping, hugs, and thank-yous among
councilmembers, the public, and city staff. Das Williams, who along
with Helene Schneider championed and shepherded the ordinance
through the process, said the ordinance “reflected Santa Barbara’s
values.” Several longtime Living Wage advocates addressing the
council prior to the vote intoned the sentiment that a city’s
budget should be “a moral document.” The ordinance itself is hardly
revolutionary: Private companies that perform at least $15,000 of
contracted work for the city in one year must pay their employees
$14 per hour for that work; $12 if they provide health insurance;
or $11 if they provide family health insurance. The final figures
represented a compromise on the part of advocates who calculated in
2003 that $15.40 per hour was the minimum sustainable or living
wage not counting “buying a car, savings, or take-out meals,”
according to activist Sharon Hoshida of Santa Barbara for a Living
Wage. The coalition also accepted the exclusion of nonprofits from
the livable wage ordinance, but only on the understanding that city
staff would develop a point-incentive plan for nonprofits that
offer benefits and higher salaries. A few people raised their
voices against the ordinance last night, chief among them Steve
Cushman, representing the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, but
even his criticism was hedged. Cushman expressed concern regarding
the symbolism of the ordinance, worrying it would create a
perception that Santa Barbara is unfriendly to commerce. “And it’s
the next step that we’re concerned with,” added Cushman, referring
to the concern that other city employees may expect to have their
wages raised to stay proportionally ahead of the contract workers.
Mario Borgatello of MarBorg Industries and Allen Williams of
ServiceMaster janitorial services voiced more substantial
concerns — though both expressed emotional support for the
ordinance. Borgatello complained the ordinance created an uneven
playing field. MarBorg already provides family health insurance;
however, he said, it discourages family health coverage, as it
costs more than the one-dollar-per-hour discount in wages the
ordinance provides for. Borgatello speculated that out-of-town
companies would attempt to cheat the ordinance by claiming the $11
wage option without actually providing the health coverage, putting
businesses like MarBorg at a competitive disadvantage in the
bidding process. Borgatello called for the city to ensure more
vigilant enforcement than the ordinance currently provides.
Williams, meanwhile, said he feared ServiceMaster would suffer when
bidding for small jobs against companies small enough to not be
subject to the ordinance. The two dissenting councilmembers, Roger
Horton and Brian Barnwell, both worried that the city, which is
just recovering from an economic downturn that caused city staff to
dip into reserves, could not afford to pay the wages the ordinance
demands. Finance Director Rob Peirson was not similarly concerned,
saying the cost to city government —  based on other cities with
similar ordinances — would be “a fraction of one percent” of the
overall budget. The ordinance will return two more times to the
council, as a matter of procedure, before its adoption is


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