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California and the West

Santa Cruz Workers to Get a Leg Up

Spending: Living wage law would pay city employees nearly twice the state's minimum in an effort to pull them along with the economy.


Aiming to offer city workers a fighting chance to survive the region's skyrocketing cost of living, Santa Cruz is establishing the nation's highest "living wage"--nearly double the state's minimum wage, officials said Thursday.

Under a new law that was given initial approval this week, the liberal-minded beach community 70 miles south of San Francisco would pay workers an $11-per-hour minimum with health benefits and $12 without benefits, said Vice Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice.

Santa Cruz officials say their efforts mirror a national movement to persuade local municipalities to insist that companies holding city contracts pay wages above state and federal scales. California's minimum wage is $5.75.

The city's new pay scale would top those of scores of other cities and towns nationwide that have passed similar measures--including Chicago's $7.60 hourly wage and San Jose's $9.50.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 18, 2000 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong age--In an Oct. 13 story on a new living wage being considered in Santa Cruz, the age of Vice Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice was incorrect. He is 50.

Fitzmaurice said the issue is particularly important in California, a state where the cost of living has soared with the success of high-tech companies and other industries.

He said he hoped that cities such as Santa Monica, which is debating its own living wage plan, would sit up and take notice.

"We're upping the ante on paying people a fair wage, hoping that cities all over the state will see what we're doing and follow suit," he said. "It's a recognition of the fact that asking people to live on $5.75 an hour in this economy really is a joke."

The new scale would apply to all permanent city workers and employees of commercial companies with contracts to provide city services. Using the $300,000 budget for the program, Santa Cruz also seeks to provide the wage to employees of nonprofit agencies with city contracts.

The law would also give the city's temporary employees the go-ahead to unionize and engage in collective bargaining with the city, officials say.

Fitzmaurice, a 37-year-old college lecturer who says he has previously struggled to survive on minimum-wage jobs, began leading the Santa Cruz effort last year.

Santa Cruz has recently experienced a 30% rise in housing and rental costs. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,300 or more, and the average home sells for about $350,000, placing the community among the nation's most expensive places to live, Fitzmaurice said.

"You can't buy a mobile home here for less than $250,000--it's incredible," said the vice mayor. "Right across the street from City Hall, people are doing city-related work for less than this salary--day care and social service work. They've told us how they're struggling. We had to try and do something."

Sandy Brown, campaign coordinator for the Santa Cruz County Coalition for a Living Wage, applauded the city's move. "One of the most encouraging things to come out of this is the new rights for temporary workers to organize into labor unions," she said.

She said that, of 1,050 Santa Cruz city workers, 600 hold temporary positions.

"This will provide a significant boost for people who work seasonally, part time, and have other jobs," she said. "Some of these folks work four different jobs to make ends meet. This will help them increase their wages and improve their working conditions."

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the City Council tentatively approved the new law, which is expected to win final passage in two weeks. The law would go into effect one month later.

Fitzmaurice said the cause-oriented city is exploring other ways to assist those working at or below the poverty level. Under public fire, Santa Cruz recently shelved a plan to allow vans and mobile homes to park overnight in certain areas of town.

Fitzmaurice said: "That's an issue I want to see brought up again."

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