Monday, May 21, 2007

Shelby County Commission Passes Living Wage

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2007 at 4:00 AM

Employees of the county or those who contract with the county will soon see a raise. Today, the Shelby County Commission approved adoption of a living wage ordinance for the county.

The ordinance will mandate a $10 per hour wage for those working for the county or with companies that do contract work with the county so long as health insurance is provided. If health insurance is not provided, the ordinance requires the employer to pay $12 per hour. A similar ordinance was passed by the Memphis City Council last year.

Several commissioners expressed concerns over the ordinance’s effect on small business. Commissioner Mike Ritz called the ordinance a “nightmare for small business” because he fears employers who contract with the county will have to keep two sets of records — one for pay on county jobs and another for pay on other jobs. Ritz also expressed concern that some small businesses may fire employees to cut costs.

“Mr. Ritz, if you think the least-skilled workers are least deserving of a living wage, maybe you’ve never done the jobs I have as a janitor,” said Living Wage supporter Andrew Cohen during discussion of the ordinance. “I’ve spent my time picking up after people like you.”

Commissioner Steve Mulroy argued that active living wage ordinances in other cities have demonstrated few negative effects on small business.

In the end, when votes were cast, some commissioners showed support or opposition in creative ways. Deidre Malone gave a “resounding aye” while Henri Brooks opted for a “humanitarian aye.” Wyatt Bunker cast a “welfare state no” and Joyce Avery voiced a “conservative Republican no.” When Commission Chairman Joe Ford announced that the ayes have it, Living Wage campaign supporters clapped and shouted.

Said living wage supporter Joe Porter: “Passing this goes a long way in helping so many problems in this area that stem from poverty.”

—Bianca Phillips

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