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Pull lever, raise wages

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Detroiters can vote a raise for some of the working poor November 3. If voters a ballot initiative proposed by the AFL-CIO and supported by the Archer administration, businesses that receive city contracts or government subsidies of more than $50,000 will be required to pay their workers a "living wage" that is currently pegged at $7.96 an hour plus medical benefits or $9.95 without benefits. The figures would be adjusted for inflation.

Businesses would also be required to hire Detroit residents to fill any new positions created because of the city contract or financial assistance "to the greatest extent feasible."

The Living Wage Coalition reports finding a guard at the Recreation Department whose employer pays her $5.15 an hour with no benefits. The AFL-CIO News interviewed a $6-an-hour cleaner at City Hall. The cleaner works for T&N Services, which holds a $2.4 million contract for a number of services, the paper said.

Organizers say that any businesses that get aid through the empowerment zone, city financial assistance or tax credits would be covered. Detroit paid $238 million to contractors last year.

Volunteers from AFL-CIO unions gathered 9,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot. If it passes, Detroit will join at least 20 other cities and counties that have enacted such laws.

Often, city governments and local business establishments have fought such laws. Small business owners argue that they'll go out of business; mayors warn that the costs are too high for finite city budgets.

But economists Robert Pollin and Stephanie Luce, in their book The Living Wage (New Press, 1998), write, "The wage and benefit increases for most firms due to the living wage requirements would be less than 1 percent of these firms' total costs to produce goods and services."

Archer noted, "By raising the wage we're able to attract and retain good quality workers."

Living wage campaigns are also under way in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Kalamazoo.

To get involved in the Detroit campaign call 313-896-2600.

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