Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gov. Haslam must go farther in stopping living wage repeal

Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam stated in a national CBS story that he didn't think the state should be getting involved in local governments' decisions about passing living wage laws. But Haslam stopped short of saying whether he would veto a proposed legislature ban on local living wage ordinances.

Sign the petition to Gov. Haslam, telling him he should commit now to vetoing any ban or repeal of living wage ordinances in Tennessee communities.

What is this bill about?
For those of you who are new to the living wage fight here in Tennessee, here's some background. In 2006, the City of Memphis passed our state's first living wage ordinance, require the City's contractors to pay workers at least $10.27 an hour with health insurance, or $12.32 an hour without insurance. In 2007, Shelby County passed a similar law for their local government contractors.

The logic behind these laws is simple: workers on government contracts are doing work for the City and are paid by taxpayer dollars. Therefore, the City has a special responsibility to make sure its resources are not being used to create poverty jobs.

Ever since activists like you got these living wage laws passed, state legislators (including many who don't live anywhere near Shelby County) have tried to get these laws repealed.

What happened to local control?
While a living wage should not be a partisan issue, most Republican state legislators are not in favor of living wage initiatives. As the Tennessee legislature has grown a deeper shade of red the past couple of years, this has put our local living wage laws in serious jepoardy.

The ban on living wages would also mean other local governments in Tennessee would never be able to debate and consider their own living wage laws for their local government contractors.

Gov. Haslam stated in the CBS article that "he's not a fan of living wages." We're not asking him or state legislators to promote living wage laws.

We are asking them to uphold a principle that conservatives do say they support: local decisions should be made at the local level. Aren't our local elected officials in a better position to decide what to do with their own contracts than the state is? If the federal government had new requirements for state of Tennessee contractors, conservative state legislators would howl about big government interference in their affairs.

Gov. Haslam's statements are a good start to taking the momentum away from the living wage repeal bill. But we need more than just words: we need a commitment that he will veto this bill if the legislature passes it.

What you can do:
  • Sign our petition to Gov. Haslam urging him to pledge to veto the living wage repeal.
  • Spread the word among your friends across Tennessee that their signatures are also needed.  has easy to use features that allow you to share the petition with your Facebook friends, on Twitter, or by email.
Misleading comments from Sen. Brian Kelsey
    In the CBS article about Haslam's comments, Sen. Brian Kelsey, a sponsor of the anti-living wage bill, tried to claim his actions stem from a concern about the working poor. The truth is that Sen. Kelsey is trying to mislead people about what local living wage ordinances actually do.

    Kelsey claims that living wage ordinances cause unemployment among minority teens, presumably because companies paying living wages would no longer want to hire these young workers. His statement makes people think that living wage ordinances cover all businesses, when they are actually very targeted.

    Living wage ordinances only cover local government contractors, and only cover the jobs that are performed directly for the City or County. The jobs covered by our local living wage laws are primarily janitorial, security, and landscaping jobs worked during the school day. Teens would not be filling these jobs even if they paid the minimum wage. Furthermore, the Shelby County ordinance specifically exempts contractors from paying a living wage to persons under the age of 18 or those completing student internships.

Do you hear an outcry from businesses?
    Rep. Glen Casada, sponsor of the House version of the anti-living wage bill, complains that living wage ordinances are just too burdensome on businesses. In a Tennessean article, he said businesses just can't keep up with different wage requirements in different places.

    If this is true, where is the outcry from businesses in Memphis and Shelby County about our living wage ordinances? When these bills were being debated, I was present at each of the three City votes and County votes where the bill was heard. No business came forward to say that these ordinances would hurt them if passed. I've heard legislators like Casada claim to speak for these businesses, but I haven't seem local contractors going to the legislature, calling for the living wage repeal to be passed.

    The truth is, the living wage repeal is not being requested by businesses. It is a huge overreach by state government into local government affairs. And it hurts workers who have been taking care of their families for years now with the living wages they earn. We must let Gov. Haslam, and all our legislators know, that Tennesseans do not want this bill.