Dallas Living Wage Coalition holds successful meeting with city council


Cliff Pearson


On
March 7, 2000 approximately 75 members of the Dallas Living Wage Coalition
gathered at 9:00 AM at Dallas City Hall in the council briefing room for a
special meeting with the Municipal and Minority Affairs Committee. As the
media looked on, members of the Coalition individually addressed the members
of the Committee–City Council members Don Hill, John Loza, and Leo
Chaney–with their demands for what they call a “living wage” ordinance in
Dallas. Their points illustrated by colorful posters, the Coalition members
asked the Committee to host a public hearing on the issue of a living wage
ordinance and draft a city ordinance requiring all companies contracting or
subcontracting with the City of Dallas for a profit of $10,000 or more, or
getting a tax abatement of $50,000 or more, to pay all their employees $8 per
hour with health insurance or $9 per hour without health insurance.
Additionally, the Coalition wants the Committee to meet with members of the
Coalition individually as they work on the ordinance, and to have a living
wage ordinance proposal to present to the City Council for a vote by August
2000.

The
“living wage” movement got its start in Baltimore in 1994. Members of the
Dallas Living Wage Coalition say that following Baltimore’s lead over 40
cities across the U.S. have adopted a living wage ordinance. But there is no
standard for what hourly wage is considered a living wage. In San Antonio, for
example, their living wage ordinance requires firms to pay $9.27 per hour,
excluding health benefits, to at least 70 percent of the firm’s employees in
order to qualify for a tax abatement. But Hidalgo County, Texas has set a
$7.50 per hour living wage in their ordinance. The federally-determined
minimum wage for workers is currently $5.15 per hour.

“The
federal government, through the Department of Health and Human Services has
determined that a family of four needs to be making at least $8 an hour to be
able to meet basic expenses,” said Kimberly Olsen, director of the Dallas
office of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN),
and a leader of the Dallas Living Wage Coalition. “Therefore, we are
demanding that the City of Dallas show leadership in making sure families earn
at least this much. We feel it’s a basic human right that people should be
able to earn enough money to live.”

The
Committee members listened intently and politely, and then at 10:30 AM,
Council member John Loza said that regretfully he had to leave to attend to a
family matter. But before he left, Loza spoke of having been at a meeting with
the Austin Street Shelter for the Homeless earlier that morning. He said that
the shelter is a “perfect example” of the fact that there are working poor
in Dallas. “Most of the people at the Austin Street Shelter–homeless
people–have jobs,” said Loza. “They are the working poor, and they are
why we need a living wage ordinance in Dallas. I hear all the time about how
the economy is showing an upswing of prosperity, but not all of us are sharing
in that prosperity.”

Members
of the Dallas Living Wage Coalition then held up a poster with the names of
the Committee members on it, and asked the members if they would support all
of the Coalition’s demands. To the surprise of the Dallas Living Wage
Coalition, every member of the Committee agreed to fully support all the
Coalition’s principles.

Committee
member Don Hill also indicated his full support for the Dallas Living Wage
Coalition’s demands by moving that the Municipal and Minority Affairs
Committee direct the Dallas City Attorney’s Office to draft a living wage
ordinance for them to present to the City Council as soon as possible. With a
second by Committee chair Leo Chaney, the motion carried unanimously.

“I
want to say that I applaud your leadership in bringing this matter to us,”
said DonHill in reference to Leo Chaney’s having called the special meeting
to meet with the Coalition, after a bureacratic error prevented the Coalition
from being able to address them last month. “And I commend all of you in the
Coalition for your leadership. Your presentation has been enlightening.”

Leo
Chaney echoed the sentiments of his colleague by saying that he found the
Dallas Living Wage Coalition’s briefing packet to be extremely helpful. “I
was particularly glad to see the responses to arguments against a living wage
ordinance that you put in here,” he said. “We discussed some of these very
same objections this morning before we met with you.” Chaney was referring
to a list of answers to popular objections to a living wage ordinance that was
included in a packet of information the Coalition had provided to the
Municipal and Minority Affairs Committee last month.

“I
was also very concerned about the job loss factor,” said Chaney in reference
to the commonly held view of many opponents of a living wage ordinance, who
believe that such a law would force businesses to dissolve jobs because they
can’t afford to pay the living wage. “But I’ve done some of my own
research on that and I’ve determined that that is not a legitimate fear.”

On
the afternoon of March 8, 2000 Leo Chaney, chairperson of the Municipal and
Minority Affairs Committee of the Dallas City Council. told me that the Dallas
City Attorney’s Office has done as directed at yesterday’s meeting and has
written three “model” living wage ordinance drafts for the review of the
Municipal and Minority Affairs Committee. Chaney said that now the members of
the Committee will meet individually with representatives of the Dallas Living
Wage Coalition to help discern which of the three is the best ordinance for
the City of Dallas, and therefore the best one to send to the City Council for
a vote.



The
Dallas Living Wage Coalition’s member organizations currently include: The
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the American
Postal Workers Union, the Dallas AFL-CIO, the Dallas Peace Center, Graphic
Communications International Union #525-S, The Green Party of Dallas County,
Jobs With Justice, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Los
Altos Community Organization, the Dallas chapter of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), NALC, the North Dallas chapter
of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Pax Christi Dallas, Plumbers and
Steamfitters Local 100, Service Employees Union Local 100, the Dallas chapter
of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Stonewall Democrats (gay and
lesbian caucus of the Democratic Party), Teamsters Local #767, the Texas
Tenants Union, United Aerospace Workers (UAW) Local 848, United Food and
Commercial Workers Local 1000, United Transportation Union # 965, and the West
Dallas Coalition for Environmental Justice.

Cliff
Pearson is the editor of the Dallas Peace Times and lives in Dallas, Texas.