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Published: Wednesday, 10/10/2001

Monroe County commission OKs living wage measure

MONROE - Monroe County commissioners last night became the first county board in the state to enact a “living wage” resolution, racing to do so before the state legislature passes a bill that would make such local actions moot.

The resolution requires that any contractor who does more than $10,000 in business with the county during any calendar year must pay its employees a minimum of $8.70 an hour, or at least $10.20 an hour if the employer doesn't provide health insurance.

The measure passed on a 5-4 vote, with Democrat Gail Hauser-Hurley joining Republican colleagues Dale Zorn, V. Lehr Roe, and David Scott in voting no.

“If we contribute to continuing low wages and poverty, we're going to pay one way or another,” said Jerry Hesson, a longtime labor activist who works as a community liaison for the Monroe County AFL-CIO. “You have a chance to insure that the citizens who work for their community ... are not paid poverty wages.”

Michelle Nisley, of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce, said members of the local business group “cannot afford to offend” their customers or employees by openly arguing against the living wage resolution. Instead, she said, they would make their feelings known at the ballot box and the unemployment office.

“There are a lot of Monroe County businesses that will close because of increased costs” brought about by the resolution, Ms. Nisley said.

Local living wage legislation has sprung up across the country since passage of the first such ordinance in Baltimore in 1994. Since then, more than 50 cities and counties across the country, including Toledo, have passed legislation aimed at keeping workers and their families out of poverty.

A living wage ballot issue passed overwhelmingly in Detroit in 1998 and, according to a recent study of its impact, an estimated 2,300 people benefited directly through higher wages or better health benefits out of more than $365 million in contracts.

While county commissioners gave no agenda notice of any intent to vote on the legislation last night, Mr. Mell, the commission's chairman, said the vote was advanced in order to get the measure on the books before a state bill was passed that would nullify such legislation. A living wage ordinance is under consideration in neighboring Washtenaw County.

But local business leaders told commissioners the county's resolution was not the way to help a slumping economy.

“The last thing we need in difficult economic times is local government telling us how much we need to pay our employees,” argued Jim Crawford, a member of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce and co-owner of a local insurance business. “The timing on this is not good.

“This is going to cost a lot of money, and it's going to cost the taxpayers of the county a lot of money.”



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