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Port Hueneme Favoring Living-Wage Ordinance

Some city contractors would have to pay workers at least $9 hour.

October 01, 2003|Lynne Barnes | Times Staff Writer

Port Hueneme is poised to become the first city in Ventura County to approve a living-wage ordinance, mandating that employees of certain city contractors be paid at least $9 an hour.

The ordinance passed its first reading on a 3-2 vote two weeks ago and will be considered for a final vote at the City Council meeting tonight. If approved, it would take effect in 30 days.

"This is a step, but it's not the whole answer to the problem of the working poor," said Councilman Murray Rosenbluth, who voted for the ordinance along with Mayor Jon Sharkey and Councilwoman Maricela Morales.

The new rule would amend an existing ordinance and apply to contractors of nonprofessional services who have 10 or more employees and make at least $35,000 a year from the city. Rosenbluth said that would affect only two current contractors, one who provides maintenance and one who removes green waste.

Their employees would be paid $9 an hour if health-care benefits are offered or $11.50 if they are not.

Sharkey said that the ordinance is not creating a minimum wage but is implementing a contract condition, "and we have contract conditions all the time."

The mandate would cost contractors $16,000 to $18,000 yearly, he said, and the contractors presumably would pass that cost along to the city.

Dusty Babitzke, a certified financial planner and the Port Hueneme Chamber of Commerce president, has spoken against the plan.

"I personally do not feel that anyone has the right to dictate to businesses what they have to pay their people," Babitzke said this week. "I do not believe that there's any kind of evidence that shows that a living-wage ordinance actually helps anyone ... the workers, the community, the businesspeople.

"The way a worker gets ahead in this day and age is to get a proper education," he said. "Business owners need qualified workers. We have a problem finding properly trained people. The city needs to take a stance on getting people educated."

Councilman Anthony C. Volante and Mayor Pro Tem Toni Young voted against the amendment.

"I don't feel that I should be telling businesses what to pay their people," Volante said.

Moreover, he said, "I don't know if these employees live in the city of Port Hueneme or spend their money in Port Hueneme."

Port Hueneme would be the first city in the county to approve such a wage ordinance, although the Oxnard City Council last year approved a more fluid living-wage policy requiring that the lowest-paid employees of city contractors be paid at least $12.22 an hour.

The main distinction between an ordinance and a policy is enforcement.

The Oxnard policy gives the city more leeway in determining what course of action to take against a contractor, although termination is an option. That city's policy is being phased in, with full implementation not expected until 2005.

The county passed a living-wage ordinance two years ago requiring that contractors pay workers at least $8 an hour, plus health benefits, or $10 without the benefits. It applies to contracts worth more than $25,000.

The city of Ventura last year turned down a proposal that would have required companies doing business with the city to pay their employees at least $9 an hour.

Sharkey, who plans to vote for the living wage, said: "I just think it's the right thing to do. The minimum wage is about a third of what it was in the early '60s in terms of constant dollars.

"If we're going to be issuing city contracts ... the people bidding should understand that it's important that they pay their workers a fair wage," he said.

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