Livable Wage Working Group: Livable Wage for Contracted Workers “beyond the County’s immediate reach.”

The group reviewing Tompkins County‘s Livable Wage policy says that it’s still too expensive to pay a living wage to all of Tompkins County’s Contracted workers.

The working group’s report indicates that quote, “the cost to bring all contracted employees to the living wage is estimated to range from $1 to $2 million, the equivalent of a 2.3%‐4.6% increase in the County property tax levy. After careful study, the work group has concluded that cost is beyond the County’s immediate reach.” end quote.

Tompkins County is listed as a Living Wage Employer according to livable wage standards calculated by the Alternatives Federal Credit Union.  Questions about the County’s livable wage policy arose after subcontracted county sanitation workers reported that they were being payed less than a living wage, despite the County’s certification.

According to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union bi-annual Living Wage Study, it costs more than $26,000 a year or $12.62/hour to live in Tompkins County.

The working group conducted a survey that found that 86 percent of for-profit contractors in Tompkins County pay a living wage, as opposed to 60% of not-for-profit contractors. The lower rate of compliance among not-for-profit agencies is due to their “inelastic funding environment,” though some of these agencies do provide additional non-wage benefits.

The report states: “Particularly at a time of federal, state, and local cutbacks in funding for programs delivered by not‐for‐profit human service agencies (and for‐profit human service agencies delivering services regulated and funded by State or Federal agencies), it is not reasonable to expect that additional costs for higher wages can simply be absorbed by not‐for‐profit County contractors.”

Going forward, the working group recommends that the County Legislature continue the policy, but that the Legislature should “balance its goal of paying the living wage to employees of County contractors with other, sometimes conflicting goals, such as preserving essential services and property tax stability.”

The recommendations would create exceptions for service contracts of under $50,000 and certain kinds of services, such as tourism, foster care, and construction.

Pete Meyers of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center commented on the report to WRFI News earlier today, saying: “We are generally unhappy with the report, as it doesn’t make a firm commitment to move those employers that the County contracts with to pay a Living Wage. It suggests that it’ll help to encourage such employers to pay a Living Wage, but in our estimation at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, that is not enough. It is true that a fair amount of the non-Living Wage Employers are nonprofit agencies that may have a difficult time paying the Living Wage. … This is where it may be necessary to have some amount of taxpayer subsidization of such programs to bring the workers up to a Living Wage. And it is interesting that there are some ‘industries’ where people naturally make a Living Wage, and with whom the County contracts (such as financial services, or Information Technology). It is those fields such as child care, elder care, etc that have to do with taking care of people where the people working get paid the least (often women and people of color).” end quote.