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Ventura County

Oxnard Council to Consider Support for Living-Wage Policy

Labor: The plan would call for contractors to pay at least $9 an hour, but some say an ordinance is needed.

June 20, 2002|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shying away from an ordinance, the Oxnard City Council has instead agreed to consider adoption of a so-called living-wage policy that would simply demand government contractors pay their workers at least $9 an hour.

The council voiced support Tuesday for a sweeping policy that would be phased in over four years and include city employees at a projected cost of $1.7 million. Health insurance benefits would not be included.

Living-wage advocates applauded the city's support to increase the pay of low-wage workers. But advocates said they preferred an ordinance that would require government contractors to pay their employees more money before doing business with the city.

"The living wage has won the day, but ... we will have to be constantly vigilant for attempts to weaken it," said Maricela Morales, spokeswoman for the Coalition for a Living Wage.

Mayor Manuel Lopez and Mayor Pro-Tem John Zaragoza said they also favor a law over a policy.

"The concern I have is, will [a policy] have any teeth?" Zaragoza said. "How can we force contractors to do what the policy says?"

Zaragoza said he will recommend the policy be approved with the condition that a city-paid compliance officer and a volunteer oversight committee be assigned as policy watchdogs. He said it makes economic sense to increase the pay of the working poor.

"The cost of sending kids to school, medical care, car insurance, is tremendously high," Zaragoza said. "Ultimately, if people can't afford these costs, we pay for them through social taxes and income taxes."

The council is expected to approve the new policy plan at its meeting Tuesday.

During the first year of the policy, about 200 city employees and four contract employees would be affected by the wage hikes, officials said.

Over the next three years, another 100 city employees and 70 to 80 contract workers would see their wages increased.

The intent of living-wage laws is to reduce poverty by mandating pay for government workers and contractors that is higher than the state's minimum wage. Such laws have been the source of debate, with opponents saying they only serve to raise the cost of government services.

A split Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a living-wage law last year. That ordinance requires county contractors to pay employees at least $8 an hour, plus health benefits, or $10 an hour without benefits. The mandate only applies to contracts worth more than $25,000.

But in March the Ventura City Council voted 5 to 2 to reject a similar law, saying the cost to the city would have ranged from $400,000 to $800,000.

Morales said a living wage is essential in Oxnard, where there are 8,700 households whose income is less than $20,000 a year, and 11,436 residents collect public assistance from the county.

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