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Living Wage Ordinances Benefit All

October 22, 2000|MARCOS VARGAS | Marcos Vargas chairs the Ventura County Living Wage Coalition, a group of community, labor and faith-based organizations. He is a professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Channel Islands

Although efforts to persuade Oxnard and Ventura County to pass living wage ordinances are continuing, popular support has already improved the quality of life for some of the county's low-wage residents, and the foundation has been set for building a sustainable countywide movement for economic justice.

Ventura County Living Wage Coalition members have worked with city and county staff to complete an analysis of the impact of the proposed ordinances. The coalition has also expanded its outreach efforts to further involve working families, church congregations and local businesses.

Under the banner of "living wage summer," the coalition joined forces with sister organizations, including El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, the League of Women Voters and the Tri-Counties Labor Council, to register voters and increase voter participation among working families. Summer activities also included a comprehensive research effort on poverty in the county, health insurance needs among low-wage workers and a cost-benefit analysis of proposed local ordinances. The research is being conducted by students, community members, businesspeople and union workers in conjunction with the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA.

Although the ordinances propose to raise the wages of employees of businesses receiving government contracts and subsidies to $8 with benefits or $10 without, the wages of some workers in the county have already been impacted. Several coalition member organizations have raised the wages of their lowest paid employees. Despite their exemption under proposed ordinances, nonprofit organizations and churches, such as All Saints Episcopal Church, El Concilio and the Commission on Human Concerns, have moved to meet the living wage standard. Service organizations, such as Project Understanding and Many Mansions, which have not yet joined the coalition, also have decided to take the important step of raising the wages of employees paid below a living wage.

The Rev. Anthony Guillen of All Saints says, "It's a matter of practicing what we preach. How can we advocate for a living wage ordinance on moral grounds if our own employees are being paid poverty wages?"

Living Wage Coalition member organizations include 40 community, labor, church, civil rights, environmental, student and business groups. A number of these business owners have taken steps to support the adoption of local living wage ordinances, as well as promoting businesses that already pay a living wage as part of their general business philosophy and practice. Local companies, such as Domino's Pizza in Thousand Oaks and Commercial Grounds Maintenance were two of the first to join this effort and serve as role models for the business community.

Businessman Ron Cuff, who is spearheading the living wage business outreach effort, refers to this as "high road business practices."

"We want to promote successful local companies like Amgen, Haas Automation, Patagonia, Supra Alloys, Edison and many of our local small and large businesses as role models who are already reaping the benefits of paying their workers a living wage," Cuff said. "We also want the public to recognize that these successful businesses promote a healthy local economy and that for them, paying a living wage simply makes good business sense."

This perspective reflects a growing nationwide recognition by businesses and economists of the benefits of living wage ordinances for workers, employers and the local economy where they have been adopted.

Living wage ordinances will pass in municipalities countywide. It is only a matter of time and--for coalition members--hard work.

This campaign not only about encouraging elected officials to pass legislation, but also about changing the way we all define a fair, just and sustainable economy.

It's about reviving the spirit of the civil rights movement and building a broad-based, multiracial progressive movement for change.

It's about recognizing that we all benefit when working people, especially those paid by our tax dollars, can support their families.

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