As Tompkins County begins to reexamine its living wage policy, Ithaca Now spoke with Pete Meyers, the coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. The TWCW works with about 350 cases in the county each year, and now, the organization is pushing the County legislature to require that all of its contractors pay employees a living wage.
What is a living wage? Why is it so important today?
One of our fundamental beliefs at the worker’s center is that nobody should be working in a job full time or whatever and living in poverty in a country that is as wealthy as ours. It’s just ridiculous. It’s unfair. We have one of the greatest unequal wealth distributions in the world, and it’s just wrong. A living wage in Tompkins County is $11.67, presuming health insurance is paid by the health employer. If health insurance is not paid, we’re saying it should be $12.78. What’s really important in Tompkins County is that we have a local credit union that many people have probably heard of called Alternatives Federal Credit Union, that back in 1994, started a study for its own purposes because it wanted to pay its employees a living wage. They started paying their employees a living wage, and every two years they update those figures. They’re actually about to update those figures in May of this year, so it’ll probably go up about five percent.
On the County plan to build a new Marriott Hotel on the Ithaca Commons:
We’re basically pushing them on three issues: that they pay all their employees a living wage, that they have a diversity hiring plan. Diversity is interesting because in many hotels, there is full diversity there, but it’s usually in the lowest level of work in housekeeping and maintenance and things. A diversity hiring plan would say it should be diverse through and through at all different levels of class levels in the hotel. The third one that we pushes on was a local hiring plan — that 75 percent of labor building the hotel should come from Tompkins County and the immediate surrounding counties. We didn’t think we had much of a chance of getting these included, and we’re very skeptical of how the process went. But it was just approved by the Industrial Development Agency by a 6-1 vote…. It’s a long battle, and it has us all looking at possibly getting a living wage ordinance passed. There are a number of locales — they tend to be bigger cities across the country — that each locale can define it as they will, but it will often include things like both the city and the county pays a living wage, anybody that they give a tax subsidy must give a living wage, and anyone they contract with must give a living wage. It’s not going to be an easy campaign to do this; we’re headed in that direction.