By HOWARD FINE
L.A. County may soon have a “living wage ordinance” of its own although one considerably weaker than the measure adopted by the city of Los Angeles last year.
The county measure, sponsored by Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, would only require contractors to disclose the wages they pay their lowest-paid workers. It also would give contractors who pay the higher wage and benefits a leg up in the bidding for county contracts although how much of a boost has not yet been determined.
The proposal does not require all contractors to actually pay a living wage, like the ordinance passed by the L.A. City Council last year. That law calls for contractors pay at least $7.25 an hour with benefits or $8.50 an hour without benefits although in the year since the city’s living wage ordinance was passed, most city departments have not regularly enforced the measure.
Labor leaders acknowledge that the more conservative Board of Supervisors is unlikely to support a living wage statute like the city’s. Two of the five members, Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich, oppose even the watered-down measure sponsored by Burke.
Of the other members, Burke said she would want to examine the success of the city measure before adopting a similar law at the county level. Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky didn’t want to discuss the measure.
“I don’t think a living wage ordinance like the city’s would get through the board right now, not without a major campaign,” said Tirana Silton, coordinator of the internal building services division at Service Employees International Union Local 1877. “We’re trying a different tactic that we hope will get to the same goal.”
While problems have surfaced at the city level, Burke nonetheless believes that some measure should be adopted. When employers fail to pay workers sufficient wages or provide health insurance, she said, the taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab in social service spending.
“We have an issue of bad business practice here that must be addressed,” she said. “We are choosing the low bidder without considering the cost to us down the road from contract employees without benefits turning to county health services. We need to factor this into our contracting process.”
The proposal was approved in concept on a 3-2 vote last April, with Antonovich and Knabe dissenting. The board instructed county staff to come back by the end of July with recommendations on what the living wage would be, and how much extra credit points companies would get on their bids for paying the living wage to their employees.
Antonovich spokesman Cam Currier said the proposal would hurt small businesses because they can least afford to endure another wage increase on top of the four minimum wage increases in the past two years. Currier also cited a County Administrative Office report that said the county would pay $22 million more in the form of higher contracts to bidders who pay the living wage.
The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce gave a brief statement opposing the concept approved by supervisors, saying it would be burdensome on small businesses and would send an anti-business message.
“We’re pushing our case very hard with Supervisor Burke, who has said in the past that she is a supporter of small and mid-sized businesses getting procurements,” said Chamber legislative affairs director Anita Zusman.