Louisville passes living wage ordinance

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – On Nov. 26, workers here won a major victory when the Board of Alders passed a Living Wage Ordinance by a vote of 9 to 1. The ordinance will raise the minimum pay rate of city workers to $8.50 an hour on July 1, 2003, to $9.50 a year later and to $10.20 on July 1, 2005. These minimums will also apply to the workers of those companies or agencies that receive grants, loans, tax incentives or bond financing of $100,000 or more.

'A great city should not pay any worker poverty wages' said Alderman Bill Allison in casting his vote. 'We have heard testimony that some city workers have to get help from welfare, food stamps, and Section 8 housing in order to make ends meet on city wages,' Allison continued.

He noted that over 90 other U.S. cities have passed similar living wage ordinances. The experience of other cities shows that money is saved in the reduction of worker turnover, in training costs, in less paid into welfare programs and in greater receipt of taxes, he added. Allison noted that a study by Kentucky Youth Advocates showed that for one adult with one child to live with self sufficiency in Louisville it takes a wage of $14.21 an hour.

The city has given millions to corporations such as Humana, the Courier-Journal, Churchill Downs, and the Marriott Hotel, Allison said. The city ought to be able to pay the lowest paid a living wage so that a parent can afford day care and not have to work two or three jobs, he concluded.

Alderwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton spoke in favor of the bill, stating that for many families the income from work is not sufficient to cover basic family needs. She noted that the passage of the Living Wage will allow the new Metro Council of the newly merged city and county government, which takes office in January, to prepare for implementation in the budget next year.

The campaign for passage was led by a coalition of more than 50 union, community, civil rights and church organizations, spearheaded by Kentucky Jobs with Justice. The coalition worked on the legislation for several years, organizing dozens of meetings with individual alders, and going door to door to collect thousands of post cards in support.

The main sponsors of the ordinance were Bill Allison and Alderwoman Tina Ward Pugh. The bill still faces a possible veto from Mayor David Armstrong. Eight votes would be sufficient to override a veto. The measure will apply countywide and be binding on the incoming Metro Council unless it is rescinded by that council. The Metro Mayor-elect Jerry Abramson, an activist in the Democratic Leadership Confererence, also opposes the Living Wage.

Denise Bentley, President of the Board of Alders stated at the meeting, 'It is long overdue – I vote yes.' The chamber full of Living Wage supporters rose in standing ovation.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org