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Philadelphia Voters to Decide on Minimum Wage and Benefits Ordinance Amendments

Philadelphia Council authorized a public vote on Bill 130532 last Thursday. The bill amends the city charter to provide better wage protections and benefits for subcontracted city workers. The referendum will appear on the Spring 2014 ballot. Council supported this item unanimously.

According to attorney Steve Masters of JustLaws,

only a city-wide vote against them [the amendments] could stop the home rule charter from being amended. Since the legislation passed Council unanimously today, even if the Mayor were to veto it, Council would easily override his veto and mandate that the charter change question appears on the May 2013 primary ballot.

Primeflight Aviation subcontract worker Bryan Thompson spoke at the meeting in favor of the referendum. "We're not asking for handouts," he said. The request is merely that a full-time work week provides survivable compensation.

Importantly, the amendments introduce no new rules. They rather simply ensure the enforcement of existing ones. The changes "will bring the code to life," Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. explained at last week’s meeting of the Committee on Law and Government. It will make sure that companies who creatively misread wage ordinances and underpay workers do not continue receiving city contracts.

Some, like DC Mayor Vincent Gray who recently vetoed a living wage bill in that city, think such wage hikes can hurt local economies because they drive businesses out of town. City policy makers, the argument runs, face an ultimatum: either compensate workers fairly and stunt economic growth, or continue paying poverty wages and allow development to flourish. 

But this is a false binary, according to research by T. William Lester, Assistant Professor at University of Carolina, Chapel Hill campus. Lester, who specializes in economic development, writes that his recent findings "cast doubt on the broadly held assumption that urban policy makers face a stark trade-off between equity and economic growth" when weighing these decisions.

For "government contractors in low-wage sectors—where one would expect to find the largest impacts," Lester compared the outcomes of wage hikes in the state of California. He found that living wage legislation like Philly's Minimum Wage and Benefits Ordinance "do not significantly harm a city’s business climate."