Living Wage Report

Report to the Labor Action Group at UVA:
Nov. 10-12, 2000, in Baltimore

cc: V.O.P., ACORN, ULR, Greens

I have a huge pile of very useful handouts that I can photocopy. In the meantime I’ll tell you the notes I took and the highlights. I’ll be in C’ville Monday afternoon and can drop off a stack of photocopies if someone can pay a Kinko’s bill or let me use a copier. Let me know Monday morning please.

This fact may be of interest: The Tides Foundation has $500,000 to give to LW campaigns, and will be putting out an RFP (

The most urgent thing is that Nov. 30 (that’s 18 days from now) there will be a national day of action focused on a pair of bills proposed in Congress to give federal contract workers a living wage of $8.20 per hour. Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) first introduced the Federal Living Wage Responsibility Act (HR 4353). Sen. Wellstone (D-MN) last week introduced a comparable bill. There is no national group to promote this. Local campaigns need to do it.

HR 4353 requires all companies that hold federal contracts or subcontracts worth at least $10,000 to pay all employees working on that contract a living wage of the federal poverty level for a family of four. Currently, that’s $8.20 per hour. The bill includes exemptions for small businesses and most nonprofits. It does not attempt what city living wage laws have increasingly been attempting, namely imposing a LW standard on companies that receive corporate welfare. The bill includes penalties for noncompliance: contract suspension and/or ineligibility, as well as paying back-pay.

This idea comes out of the fast-growing LW movement which has produced over 50 local ordinances, with over 75 pending. The bill would substantially supplement the Service Contract Act of 1965 which requires that a “prevailing wage” be paid on most federal service contracts. (I have a list of ordinances passed. I’ll type it in if I have time.)

The bill has 93 co-sponsors in the House. I do not know whether any of them are from Virginia, but Jen Kern at ACORN has that information. We would do well to involve any such co-sponsors in a press conference or other event. Anie Torres in Gutierrez’s office also has info. Call (202) 225-8205.

Many LW campaigns are asking for much more than $8.20. LAG is unusual in having just won an effective minimum wage of almost exactly that amount ($8.19). It makes perfect sense, then, to argue that our federal tax dollars should not go to poverty jobs of the sort that even the University of Virginia no longer creates, except in its contracts. We should demand $8.20 for contracted workers of the federal government and UVA. (I don’t know whether the bill says anything about benefits.)

The Economic Policy Institute has produced a report detailing who will be effected by this bill. I have some of the numbers of employees involved, what kinds of jobs, what their pay is now, etc. But this is all supposed to be hush-hush until Nov. 30, which is the release date. I can communicate this info. to anyone privately. And an early copy of the report can be obtained from ACORN or EPI. It should be read before Nov. 30, on which day some kind of publicity-gaining action should be used to promote it. Suffice it to say that thousands of workers are employed in poverty jobs through federal government contracts, and Virginia is one of the states with lots of them.

Ideas recommended by ACORN:
Meet with local representatives (or protest if they have not co-sponsored).
Collect post cards and deliver to members of Congress.
Send an op-ed piece to local media. (This can be done in advance with a request to hold.)
Release EPI study with press conference.
Hold speak-out on living wage, local and federal.
Invite allies to participate.

The Day of Action is a joint project of ACORN and the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support, a newly formed consortium of more than 25 community organizations and networks with an aggregate membership of 300,000 families and associates in more than 40 states ( For help planning, contact Jen Kern at the ACORN Living Wage Center (202) 547-2500,


I missed all the introductory stuff on Friday and part of the first big meeting on Saturday.

I heard the stories of numerous campaigns, including nine other college campaigns – on none of which did the surrounding city take the lead and in many of which unions have played a role. The most consistently successful action, as far as I can gather, has been sit-ins. Wesleyan and Johns Hopkins have both succeeded by occupying buildings (after previously doing much of what LAG has done). They also recommend talking to donors, researching board members, etc. See Others have boycotted meal plans and set up a soup kitchen. Hopkins built a shanty. A state college like UVA could do a state campaign against enrollment.

But I’m jumping ahead. Brian Kettenring of ACORN in Sacramento, Ca., described three campaigns. In Chicago, from May 95 to summer 98, Mayor Daley presented a good target of opposition. The New Party and unions helped. Making a video to use in organizing helped.

In Oakland from Dec 97 to July 98 a campaign built a new coalition. The June 98 mayor’s race was the turning point.

In Sacramento they are starting next Saturday with a forum. They’ve been planning for the past year. It’s a more conservative place than Oakland.


The first workshop I went to was on drafting ordinances. I had to skip the simultaneous sessions on building coalitions, LWs at nonprofits, and statewide LWs. I picked up lots of sample ordinances and guides to writing ordinances that I can share. I’d love to help write an ordinance that we could offer to UVA or Cville or Albemarle or Va. to do so, we need to talk to workers and research the local cost of living, etc., to determine exactly what we want to accomplish. Paul Sonn of NYU Law, Rick McHugh of the National Employment Law Project, and Jen Kern presented. Here’s their advice:

Talk to employees about what they want in an ordinance. Come up with principles. Then draft it. Make it 100 percent or 125 percent of the poverty level for a certain size family, and then index it to increase with that measurement or with cost of living. The poverty level can be a national or regional figure. Or you can use fair-market housing cost or the Consumer Price Index, which is done by states and some metro areas. OR you can use the state’s average wage increase, which in “good times” goes up faster than inflation. Make the ordinance say the LW will increase by whatever, e.g., the CPI increases IF ANY. Do not allow the LW to DECREASE with the CPI.

Use the Dept. of HHS federal poverty guidelines, rather than the Census Bureau’s.

Time the locality or university’s annual increase for the time of year that the relevant data is released.

Include one LW with benefits and one without. Create an incentive for employers to provide health insurance. Avoid specifically defining what counts as health insurance (which could be illegal), but state that the employer must provide something worth the amount of the difference between the LW required with benefits and the LW required without.

Require the higher LW for part-timers. Avoid creating an incentive to employ more part-timers to avoid providing benefits. Index the benefits cost to the CPI for medical care, which has increased faster.

Cover recipients of subsidies and their contractors. With developers of, say, a stadium, cover the eventual tenants – the concessionaires.

Set a threshold for size of projects covered to avoid making small businesses into opponents of the ordinance.

Know your locality. Know what contracts and subsidies there are, what workers don’t make a LW.

Make sure nonprofits are on your side. Help them get grants with COLAs.

Require that workers be informed of their rights and be able to speak out. Require a public hearing at least annually.

Encourage a locality to give awards to LW employers every year. Make this into great positive press for them and an occasion for envy of others.

Create a private right for anyone to sue for enforcement of ordinance.

Make sure sanctions are enough to motivate compliance.

Include vacation and sick leave.

Include union-friendly measures. For example, make sure workers used by one company have right of first refusal when a new company is used. Make sure a CBA can waive the LW requirements. Ban use of public money for anti-union activities. Guarantee right of equal access by unions to workplaces located on property controlled by locality. Guarantee card-check. Require reporting of wages and employees’ names and addresses – require this for nondiscrimination or anything else, but use it for organizing. Include incentives for training workers or providing affordable housing. Allow construction workers to be controlled by prevailing-wage laws or LW, whichever’s higher. Be very wary and careful with “hardship waivers.”


The next big plenary provided the following info. LW campaigns can be used to make localities disclose their corporate welfare. But some activists question whether we should be insisting on LW jobs for corporations given welfare, as opposed to demanding an end to that welfare. On the other hand, it’s good to make asking for corporate welfare less attractive. And it’s good to publicize it. And it’s good to build movements.

30 percent of the workforce is contingent – temp or contract. We need to demand equal pay for equal work and go after temp agencies. We can try for codes of conduct. We can set up a progressive temp agency. We can organize unions. AFL-CIO Working Families has a clearinghouse, offers training, new technology.

We can build coalitions with environmentalists fighting sprawl and big-box employers. We can work with Good Jobs First ( We can provide people with economic education, working with United for a Fair Economy.

Erik Peterson of the Labor Studies Center at the U of Minn in Duluth said not all that many workers have had their lots improved by LW laws. Not only are groups of workers defined out and compromises made, but ordinances are largely not enforced. However, sometimes success takes a different form. Instead of raising wages, a city may start subsidizing different types of companies – ones that already pay more.

We should work to force the decisions of economic development commissions above a certain dollar figure to go before elected officials. In Minnesota they’ve now got a state law requiring that EDCs have criteria for giving out their money.

Wade Rathke of ACORN and SEIU in New Orleans said they’ll have a LW of $1 above federal minimum wage on ballot in Feb or March. “You cannot separate economic development from income policy,” he said. They did a poll in New Orleans. More than 2/3 reg. voters believe they’ve been left out of the “economic boom.”

Go to Workforce Investment Board meetings and make sure they target high wages.

Movement has to be national and global, so we don’t undercut each other. Should also fight racism, sexism, and discrimination against those with criminal records.

At the New Orleans Convention Center, they won a victory for workers with Aramark. Is this food-service company used by UVA? They come up repeatedly in LW discussions.

Include condition that companies getting subsidies cannot break laws. Then union busting and toxic dumping can be reason to take back subsidies.

Also, make LW a condition of enterprise zones.

Be wary of employers who want to voluntarily pay a LW, because they can take it away again. Also, a LW per hour is not a living if enough hours aren’t worked. We need to combine the underemployed with those doing forced overtime. We need a LW and a 40 or 30 hour week to earn it.

See for info on LWs for rural areas with small businesses, such as Vermont.


The next workshop I went to was on Research. I had to skip the simultaneous ones on messages, popular economics education, and involving affected workers.

We should research:
1) cost of living
2) how to demonstrate that there is a problem
3) who has city contracts and subsidies
4) info on particular companies

Jennifer Brooks of the Wider Opportunities for Women talked about their Self-Sufficiency Standard, developed by Diana Pearce of the U of Washington. This standard is much higher than the poverty line, and therefore harder to get but good to make a lower request seem restrained. The standard is what amount of income is needed to survive without any subsidies. It varies with the number of children and adults in a family, and the ages of the children. There are 70 family types calculated for a specific geographic area, and it is based on after-tax income, since taxes vary by area.

Since the federal poverty level was set in the 60s based on food cost and a 1955 study stating that families spend 1/3 of their income on food, there have been more single-parent families, more mothers in the workforce, more taxes on lower incomes, and more geographic variation.

We want
1) access to education and training for workers
2) to get employers to pay better
3) lower the cost of living

*LAG should write a letter to WOW asking that a standard be calculated for Charlottesville. One may have already been done for Virginia, but I don’t think so.

815 Fifteenth Street, NW, Suite 916
Washington, DC 20005

I have a paper by Brooks and Pearce on how to make use of this.

An organizer from the Knoxville, Tenn., LW campaign said they do a local TV show called Workplace Talk. Perhaps they’d like to do a show on UVA. They lost a City Council vote in 1998 by 7-2.

They have had to tell workers that they are being underpaid. They have used sheets of impressive data, which I can make copies of.

You have to do your own budget analysis.

Tennessee and many other states have CD ROM’s with all their average wage data by industry. This can be very helpful. Specific workers’ stories are still needed.

Richmond, Va., used figures on poverty, such as kids getting free lunches.

We should get “The Poverty Despite Work Handbook” from the Center on Budget Priority Policies.”

The National Low-Income Housing Coalition has used HUD figures on fair rent to determine what income is needed to be able to afford shelter in various areas.

The idea of perma-temps is often more distasteful to the public than low wages. Temp agencies are more forthcoming with info. than are other employers – especially to job prospects calling up to learn about possible jobs.

Albuquerque has taken local legislators and media on a Tour of Shame to horrible work sites.

ACORN’s Living Wage Campaign Resource Guide is helpful.

And a report from St. Louis on “Getting Nothing for Something.”

Phil Mattera of the Center for Comprehensive Corporate Research provided me with lengthy handouts on sources of information on companies. This stuff could be used to research UVA’s contractors.

Go to a company’s annual meeting. Try to get a resolution on the ballot for share holders. Get publicity. Get a bunch of people to buy one share each to get into meeting.

Erik Hauser of the Hauser Group in D.C., who was press mngr. for Bill Bradley’s ill-fated campaign, had good comments and handouts on getting good press.

One advantage is building a long relationship with a reporter. My own comment on this, is that it is hard to do given the high turnover for local reporters, which is due to the lack of a living wage for them. Maybe we need to organize newsrooms and then hope for good press.

Here is what Hauser thinks makes news:
new, different, unique
involves a conflict
has impact on community
has wide appeal
has a personal face
ties into a story that’s already been in the news
is a complete story

For example:
The LW movement has been building over the past three years; ACORN is starting a campaign for a federal LW; a study is being released on federal contract workers not getting a LW.

Put that in one paragraph.

Do not yell or come from the heart. Come from the head. Be aware of a bias against progressives and against emotion (progressives are emotional). Passion turns reporters off.

Find out what reporters, editors do what at various media outlets.

Look for hooks, like stories in news on wage trends, unemployment, profits, charity work, etc. Tie a story or a letter or column to one of those stories.

Keep it simple at outset.

Don’t call when reporters aren’t there (morning) or when on deadline.

Use e-mail.

Don’t talk like an institution. Be friendly.

Use materials from other sources. Refer reporters to other sources. Give reporters feedback.

Have visuals and events for TV. Have voices for radio. (I met a woman from Richmond who is working on a video on LW there and at UVA. She needs funds to finish it.)

Have network prepared to write letters to the editors immediately.

Use alternative media.

Use community newsletters and listserves.

Start a cable TV show, or make tapes to send to radio and TV.

Do everything together: an event, an op-ed, a radio/video.

Meet with papers’ editorial boards.


There is a SLWC listserve that I will soon be on, along with all the other college folks who were at the conference. Someone will be posting the minutes of a session we had, as well as useful websites, plans for coordinated actions, etc.

Ten schools were represented.

1) UVA
2) Johns Hopkins. They have had trouble working with unions. They’ve had some success. They’re also doing anti-sweatshop, globalization.
3) Harvard. They’re working on a code of conduct . Some of the unions there are active – SEIU and Electrical Workers, but not others.
4) U of Tennessee. Campus workers have been able to form a union and are asking for no forced overtime, after which they will ask for a LW. This is a group that is geographically relatively close to UVA, and is similar in that there are campaigns for the campus and the city. It has had success at union organizing that it might be good for LAG to learn about.
5) Wesleyan. A janitorial company called Initial has been organized into a union, and the U has been forced to adopt a code of conduct stipulating a LW which is indexed to increase. A sit-in at the admissions office was the straw that broke this one. They now have a board to hear workers’ complaints. SEIU was a major force in this, giving advice and effort all along. They’re now working on the town.
6) U of Cal S Barbara. Just starting.
7) Cornell. The Cornell Organization for Labor Action is in the planning stages. Some workers are unionized.
8) Georgain Court College in NJ – planning
9) U of Pittsburgh
10) Brown (has some SEIU already)

At Harvard a union and student coalition broke down years ago because of lack of student involvement. Trying to start it back up.

Work with central labor council or Jobs with Justice.

This Monday at NYU is University Code of Conduct Day.
SAWSJ has a big network that can be useful.
Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) is part of US Student Association and Jobs with Justice (

*Jobs with Justice can fund actions, has done so at U.T.

Clerical Workers held strike at Ohio State U.

United for a Fair Economy has a Campus LW Manual on the web.

Wesleyan had parents write letters.

Each school is going to write a history of its campaign to share. Can LAG do so???

Having a national organization has helped the anti-sweatshop movement. Someone could get a grant from the Tides Foundation and organize a national conference to produce a call for student LW campaigns.

We can plan for a national day in April.

A Cornell professor has $ for a conference there.

April 4 is the National Student Day of Action.

Also in April:
a protest of Free Trade of the Americas in Quebec City.
a Labor Notes conference in Detroit plus a student LW conference.

We can use students from other schools in each other’s actions.

At Hopkins, SLAC created an umbrella group for progressive groups on campus and set up an action network with other Baltimore schools.

This morning (Sunday) the first meeting was about this national day (discussed at top above).

Chauna Brocht of EPI detailed stuff I’m not supposed to reveal before the 30th (


The last workshop I went to was about LW ordinances and union organizing. I had to skip the simultaneous ones on actions and events, working with the religious community, and implementation and beyond.

It seems to me there are obvious advantages to getting in a union that make that goal even more important than getting a LW ordinance. I suspect the SEIU would be very interested in UVA.

In Chicago, the SEIU LW campaign failed to organize a union, then got a lot of publicity promoting a LW, and then was able to organize.

A LW ordinance can create a committee to educate workers. Then organizers can sign up for the committee.

A LW ordinance can include card check and neutrality. Tom Martin of the San Francisco LW Coalition said they got card check at an airport. This example can show unions that campaigning for legislation does not hurt organizing. They were able to organize.

Santa Cruz just got a LW ordinance.

At some point, advocacy groups have to step back and let unions bargain for what they want.

SEIU Local 1199 in Baltimore is trying for $10/hour plus training. Getting training combats the argument that says workers only make low pay because they haven’t educated themselves.

In Providence, RI, some unions are actively campaigning against a LW ordinance due to power struggles and details.

I skipped the conclusion.

Among the hardcopy material I’ve got to share are:
brochures on ACORN,
list of ordinances with dates passed,
info on Minnesota campaigns,
contact info for everyone who attended the conference,
ACORN reports on LW,
St Louis info sheets,
Richmond info sheets (about 3 people from Richmond attended),
newspaper articles on Pittsburgh campaign,
a Chicago Inst. on Urban Poverty paper,
Nat. Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice LW stuff (,
Montana info,
several EPI documents,
Wesleyan code of conduct,

If LAG can make a contribution to ACORN, they’ll make good use of it. They didn’t charge me a dime for the conference.


Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
Solidarity forever
The union makes us strong!

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