Dallas Living Wage Coalition

On March 7,  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 asked the members if they
would support 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 moved 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. The motion carried

“I want to say that I applaud your leadership in bringing this matter
to us,” said Don Hill 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.”

“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 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.                 Z

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