Archive for Wednesday, September 24, 2003

City weighs living-wage details

September 24, 2003


The devil is in the details. Just ask the Lawrence City Commission.

A month after deciding that tax-abated companies will pay their employees a "living wage," commissioners on Tuesday night hashed out the particulars of the proposal.

"What we're discussing tonight is not 'whether,' but 'how' to make that wage requirement happen," Mayor David Dunfield said.

In the end, commissioners decided:

  • That only employees whose jobs are connected to a tax abatement -- not all of a company's Lawrence employees -- will be eligible for the living wage.
  • Those employees will have to work a 60-day probationary period before becoming eligible.
  • And if the company doesn't pay the wage, it could lose its abatement after two years.

Settling on those details proved tricky.

"It feels like we're making sausage," Commissioner David Schauner said.

Commissioners in August agreed that companies that receive tax abatements must pay their employees a living wage of 130 percent of the poverty line for a family of three -- this year, $9.53 an hour.

Deciding who will be eligible for the wage was divisive Tuesday.

The Kaw Valley Living Wage Alliance favored the wage floor for all employees. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce preferred the requirement be applied only to jobs created by the abatement.

Commissioners were also split.

Dunfield said the broader requirement might penalize existing Lawrence companies that are looking to expand, but have been paying lower wages to their existing employees.

"I think the essence of this question is, are we going to make this policy retroactive?" he said. "My belief is we should not make it retroactive."

Commissioner Mike Rundle disagreed.

"If a tax abatement creates two jobs, but there are 300 people in a company making less than the living wage, we shouldn't be offering that company a tax abatement," Rundle said.

A secondary issue Tuesday was how long an employee would have to work to qualify for the living wage. The chamber supports a minimum of 520 hours -- 13 40-hour work weeks. The alliance favors a "training period" of 60 days, but only if training is actually being done.

"I don't understand why it should be that a tax abatement should kick in and a living wage should not," said Allan Hanson, a living-wage proponent. "It seems to me it should be simultaneous."

All the public speakers Tuesday night were longtime living-wage proponents who favored a broad application of the requirement. Chamber officials sat silent, having stated their positions in a letter to commissioners.

Commissioners said the policy would be designed to encourage good behavior by companies.

"My goal isn't to take abatement away from a company," Schauner said. "My goal is to see the employee benefit from this concept."

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