A March 16 memo from Mayor Dick Murphy to Deputy Mayor Michael Zucchet not only gets Zucchet's title wrong (he's referred to as Councilmember, not Deputy Mayor), but also misspells his last name: Zuchett.
Could be a typo; could be a jab at Zucchet for forcing the mayor to schedule a City Council hearing for a proposed living-wage ordinance.
The ordinance would require most businesses with city contracts to pay their employees at least $10 an hour plus benefits or $12 hourly without benefits. The ordinance targets historically underpaid service workers such as janitors, landscapers and security guards.
Living-wage supporters have been asking Murphy since mid-January to re-docket the ordinance. It had been penciled in for a City Council hearing sometime in September, said Quynh Nguyen, an organizer with the San Diego Living Wage Campaign, but her group requested the ordinance be pulled from the agenda after the Aug. 8 death of District 4 City Councilmember and living-wage supporter Charles Lewis.
In January, after Tony Young, Lewis' replacement, was sworn in, living-wage supporters tried to get the ordinance back on the agenda. Nguyen said the mayor's staff initially, “gave us all indications” it would get on the docket. But a month later, they still hadn't heard anything.
On March 1, Murphy told a group of living-wage supporters who had shown up to speak at a City Council meeting that the ordinance would be “docketed soon.” Two more weeks passed and still nothing, said Nguyen.
“We felt we had to really call him out,” she said. “If he wasn't going to do it, he had to let us know.” At a March 15 City Council meeting, Murphy told the advocates he'd make a decision by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, Zucchet's chief of staff, Michael Coleman, had been talking to Bill Baber, the mayor's docket advisor, about getting the ordinance on the agenda. Zucchet said Coleman got the impression the mayor wasn't going to budge.
City municipal code says that if four councilmembers ask that an item be docketed, the mayor must comply within 30 days. Zucchet and Councilmembers Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Tony Young submitted a memo to Murphy after the March 15 City Council meeting. The following day, Murphy responded, saying he'd put living wage on the April 12 agenda, but that “this is bad policy at a bad time.” He opposes the ordinance, he said, because it would up the cost of city contracts; city employees were on a two-year salary freeze and the ordinance would “increase the pay and benefits of non-city employees”; and adopting a living-wage ordinance would send “the wrong signal to the credit markets” that have downgraded the city's bond-approval rating. “At the very least,” Murphy added, a hearing on the ordinance should wait until after May budget talks.
Zucchet said the mayor's concern with timing is valid, but that living-wage supporters have been working to get the ordinance on the agenda for the past two years. “It was time that they should get a hearing on the matter,” he said. “The timing wasn't good last year, the timing probably won't be good next year. At some point you've just got to have the discussion; you've got to decide whether this is a policy we want to pursue or not and have that hearing.”
Zucchet said docketing the ordinance doesn't mean the City Council will approve it that day.
Paul Karr, spokesperson for the pro-labor Center on Policy Initiatives, said the ordinance as proposed would be phased in, beginning in 2007.
“The sky is not falling,” Karr said, responding to Murphy's concerns.
The mayor's office did not respond to CityBeat's e-mailed questions.
Karr added that David Fairris, an economics professor at UC Riverside, recently submitted a letter to the City Council summarizing his analysis of whether L.A.'s living-wage ordinance had negatively impacted that city's budget. “Employee turnover at living wage firms declined significantly,” Fairris wrote, “lower than the average for non-living wage firms.” Businesses affected by the ordinance also saw a decline in absenteeism. The resulting employee commitment meant a cost-savings for living-wage firms, he said.