Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Archbishop backs `living wage' proposal

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk was among the religious, social service, civil rights and union leaders to endorse the proposed "living wage" ordinance that came before City Council on Monday.

The proposal, by Democrats John Cranley and Alicia Reece, would require the city and its contractors to pay workers $8.70 an hour with benefits, or $10.20 an hour without benefits. That wage translates to the federal poverty level of $18,100 for a family of four.

Critics such as Councilman Pat DeWine pointed out that half of the city's elected officials - including himself - don't pay some of their own employees a "living wage." Ms. Reece and fellow council members David Pepper and Chris Monzel - as well as Mayor Charlie Luken - all have part-time aides making as little as $7 an hour.

"The reality is, here the council is asking the private sector to do something council doesn't do itself," he said.

With supporters arguing morality and opponents arguing economics, the debate in City Council chambers Monday was unlikely to sway any votes. Sponsors say they have the six votes necessary to adopt the ordinance by a veto-proof margin.

Mr. Luken has been lukewarm to the proposal, and said he'd like a study of the number of employees who would be affected by the law before Wednesday's vote. And the regulatory processes that would enforce the law could create a new "Office of Living Wage" - adding to the city bureaucracy at a time when he's trying to cut costs, he said.

Few city employees will be affected, city officials said. But with a City Council mandate to subject more city services to possible privatization, the ordinance could have big consequences for city contractors and the city budget.

The Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce has reservations about the plan, saying it could force low-skill workers out of the job market because employers won't want to pay them $8.70 an hour.

Jerry DiCristoforo, a member of the Roman Catholic archdiocese's Social Action Commission who spoke with the "knowledge and consent" of the archbishop, told City Council that a living wage is "integral" to Catholic social teaching about work.

"Wages must be adequate for workers to provide for themselves and their families so they may live in dignity," Mr. DiCristoforo said. "A living wage helps restore purchasing power for workers, especially low-wage workers, not just for the goods and services one can buy but also for the self-esteem and self-worth that it affords workers and their families."

The Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, a group boycotting the city's downtown in a protest of racial and economic conditions in the city, also supports a living wage ordinance. But the Coalition's Bob Park said the ordinance under consideration would have a "negligible effect" on the working poor.

To address the underlying inequities in the city's economy, he said, the ordinance should be broadened to include all workers for all city suppliers from automakers to office supply stores.

City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance Wednesday.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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