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Lucas County to consider living-wage legislation

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The Blade/Lori King
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Lucas County Commissioner Ben Konop proposed yesterday a "living-wage" contract stipulation for employers doing business with or receiving tax abatements from the county.

The resolution would be similar in intent to the living-wage law adopted by the city of Toledo in 2000. The law applies to businesses with at least 50 employees who have contracts with the city or receive certain economic benefits.

The county proposal would require an hourly wage of at least $8.38 - higher than both the state minimum of $7.30 an hour for most workers and the current federal hourly rate of $6.55, but lower than the city's living-wage requirement.

The city requirement, $11.21 an hour for businesses offering health insurance, is pegged at 110 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Mr. Konop's proposal would be tied to the Living Wage Calculator formula developed by a professor at Pennsylvania State University: livingwage.geog.psu.edu.

The resolution would not be an across-the-board wage requirement for county businesses; it would apply only to those receiving a future county contract, tax abatement, or loan.

Nonprofit organizations and businesses with fewer than 25 employees would be exempt.

The commissioner timed his announcement with yesterday's observation of Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Mr. Konop noted that the civil rights leader took up economic causes in the later part of his career, and was assassinated while in Memphis to support a sanitation workers' strike for higher wages.

"This, I thought, was a way to put some of what he dedicated his life to and died for into actual practice," he said. "This is more so than anything about fairness."

Mr. Konop said he doesn't believe the requirement would significantly burden businesses and contractors, even in the frail economy. In fact, most employers doing business with the county already pay wages that satisfy the proposed minimum, he said.

"In some ways, this is an insurance policy to make sure they don't drop below that level," Mr. Konop said.

The resolution received praise yesterday from fellow commissioner and Democrat Pete Gerken. A former Toledo City Councilman, Mr. Gerken was the leading proponent of the city's living-wage law.

"I'm a great supporter of living-wage legislation, and I think any companies that take taxpayer money ought to return that investment back into decent family wages," Mr. Gerken said.

Toledo's living-wage law has at times proven controversial and flexible. City council in 2006 approved a waiver to the wage law for the Costco store at Westgate Village Shopping Center, overriding a veto by Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

Mr. Konop said he believes the county also holds the legal authority to make such a wage stipulation in its contracts. He cited as a recent precedent the anti-sweatshop resolution, passed in June, that applies to county contractors.

The current proposal, which will go to vote before commissioners next week, would require a $8.38 an hour wage from employers offering health insurance; employers without health insurance must pay a yet-to-be-determined higher wage.

The average hourly wage in Lucas County was $19.27 in the first quarter of 2008, according to the most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That wage was lower than the state and national hourly averages, $19.95 and $22.62, respectively.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.

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