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Ventura County

Living Wage Proponents Plan Petition Drive

Ventura: Backers of higher pay by city contractors, a proposal the council rejected in March, hope to let voters decide the issue in 2003.

July 01, 2002|TIMOTHY HUGHES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supporters of a failed bid for a living wage law in Ventura said they will use tonight's City Council meeting to launch a petition drive aimed at putting the issue before voters next year.

"It's important that the Ventura City Council know that this issue is not going away," said Das Williams, a spokesman for the Ventura-based Living Wage Coalition. "But I think it's important we have a civil discussion."

Williams will be joined at the council meeting by a mix of college students, church leaders, union representatives and community activists.

Supporters will hold a candlelight vigil outside the council chambers before going inside to speak about the issue during the public comment period. More than two dozen speakers are expected to address the council, supporters said. At least 50 others are expected to attend the council meeting in a show of support.

Coalition members also will announce plans to start a petition drive to get the required signatures from 15% of registered voters in time to have the living wage issue on the ballot for the fall 2003 election.

Each member of the coalition will be urged to use his or her allotted five-minute speaking period as a show of protest to the council, said Stuart Dilg, one of the event's organizers and a member of the coalition.

"It's my responsibility to do something like this," said Dilg, 19, a Buena High graduate who attends Emory University in Atlanta. "It represents to me the movement for responsible capitalism. We need an era of ethical business where workers are not exploited."

Between his shifts as a busboy at a downtown Ventura restaurant, Dilg has spent his summer break rallying new support for the petition plan among religious leaders and members of the Interfaith Ministerial Council.

He said tonight's gathering "is one way we are showing the City Council we are not going to give up. They have to face this issue. It's a type of civil disobedience."

Council members insist they made their opinion clear on the question of a living wage for Ventura when they turned down the ordinance three months ago.

By a 5-2 vote in March, the City Council rejected a proposal that would have forced companies doing business with the city to pay their employees at least $9 hour.

Officials with the Living Wage Coalition have said that more than 5,000 households in Ventura have a principal income of less than $7.50 an hour, and at least 8,600 city residents collect public assistance from the county. Opponents have countered that the ordinance would force companies doing business with the city to face the choice of laying off workers or losing their businesses.

Despite impassioned pleas by supporters, the council balked at the plan after a study by its staff determined it would cost the city $400,000 to $800,000 annually.

The council's decision and the debate over a living wage law followed similar discussions elsewhere in Southern California, including the city and county of Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Fernando and Oxnard.

Earlier this month, the Oxnard City Council passed a living wage policy, which orders companies doing business with the city to pay workers $9 an hour. Because it's a policy and not a law, Oxnard can immediately cut ties with a company not complying but cannot impose a fine, officials said.

Ventura City Councilman Jim Friedman said he voted against the ordinance because whatever benefits it may have offered workers were outweighed by "a society overburdened by laws."

He said the city already pays its employees well over the minimum wage of $6.75 per hour.

"My suggestion is that they need to go to Sacramento and get the legislators there to change the [minimum wage]," he said. "It would be legislating higher costs to our taxpayers for no better service. It doesn't make sense to me."

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