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Published: Wednesday, 2/25/2009

Lucas County officials OK living-wage resolution

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County commissioners voted yesterday to adopt a much watered-down version of a living-wage resolution after receiving a wary opinion from the county prosecutor's office.

Although the new policy requires employers that receive grants, loans, or certain tax incentives from the county to pay its workers a minimum $11.67 an hour, it does not force businesses that enter into county contracts to pay such a wage.

Earlier proposals from Commissioners Ben Konop and Pete Gerken had sought to extend the living-wage resolution to contracts. The new opinion, however, says the board lacks the authority.

"The proposed resolution is, generally, not authorized by Ohio law and unenforceable" the opinion by Steven Papadimos, civil division chief, reads.

The living-wage proposal generated controversy among some members of the business community, including the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, which argued such wage requirements would stifle development.

Although disappointed, commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the living-wage resolution in its diluted form.

Ohio's minimum wage is $7.30 an hour.

Mr. Gerken suggested this month that commissioners raise the baseline of their living-wage proposal above an $8.38-an-hour minimum proposed by Mr. Konop. The resolution now mirrors the city of Toledo's version, pegged at 110 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.

Jobs without medical benefits are tied to 130 percent of poverty level, or currently $13.79 an hour.

In other matters, Mr. Konop sought unsuccessfully to delay the appointment of Richard Gabel to the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority's Board of Directors. He gave as his reason that too many older white men are already serving.

"It's troubling and disappointing to me to see that of the 13 members on the port board, 12 are men. And I believe of those men, 10 are white," Mr. Konop said, adding, "Most of them are over 50, probably close to 60."

Mr. Konop, who is white, Jewish, and 32, said that it's time to bring in more women or minorities.

He made his remarks in reference to a letter from port board member Margarita De Len, chairman of the board's human resources committee, who asked commissioners to consider race, ethnicity, and gender in future appointments. Ms. De Len is the only woman and sole Hispanic on the board. It also has one African-American man and one Arab- American man.

"Diversity is defining the age in which we live," she wrote. "In order to be the progressive community we claim to be, it needs to be front and center."

Commissioners Gerken and Tina Skeldon Wozniak voted to appoint Mr. Gabel over Mr. Konop's objections.

"There are a lot of ways to describe diversity," Mr. Gerken said, noting how Mr. Gabel would be the only labor union representative on the board. "I don't think you're going to get a better appointment than Mr. Gabel for today's needs."

Mr. Gabel, who is vice president of the International Longshoreman's Union and serves on the Oregon Board of Education, will finish the term of the retiring Daniel Smith that expires in July 2010.

Commissioners are charged with appointing six of the board's members; the Toledo mayor appoints an additional six and there is one joint appointment.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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