Living Wage Reporter

The Periodic Newsletter of the Dane County Living Wage Campaign - April /May 1999

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Dane County Affirms Vote

Madison Follows Suit

A Short Recap

Dane County Living Wage Ordinance

City of Madison Living Wage Ordinance
   (PDF Format)




Dane County Affirms
Living Wages, 33 to 4

On Thursday, March 18, 1999, the Dane County Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly passed a Living Wage ordinance that will keep County employees and contract employees out of poverty. The vote was 33-4 in favor.

At least two dozen other communities in the U.S. have passed similar ordinances and several dozen others are in the process.

The County ordinance requires that as of January 1, 2000, all county employees, employees of vendors who provide services under contract with the county worth $5000 or more, and employees of firms receiving $5000 or more in county economic development assistance, be paid at least 100 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four. That figure is currently $7.91/hr. but will be adjusted upward for inflation by the end of the year. Certain Human Services workers are covered immediately and now earn wages starting at $8 an hour due to the County Executive's budget passed last fall by the County Board.

The ordinance also establishes a Living Wage Review Council which is charged with reviewing implementation of the ordinance and making recommendations on health insurance coverage for workers covered by the ordinance, on whether Dane County's cost of living is such that a rate higher than 100 percent of the poverty level is more appropriate, and on inclusion or exclusion of the few categories of workers that the ordinance currently exempts.

Voting in favor of the ordinance were lead sponsors Hendrick, Lowe, and Stoebig, and co-sponsors Becker, Cornwell, Gawenda, Hulsey, Johnson, Kesterson, Kiley, Kuhn, McDonell, Miller, Opitz, Pederson, Powell, Rhyne, Salov, Vedder, Wendt, and Wilcox. Co-sponsor Butler was excused for the meeting and co-sponsor Berceau had to leave before the late night vote due to health considerations. Also voting in favor of the ordinance were Supervisors David Blaska, Clauder, Hamre, Hanneman, Mohrbacher, O'Laughlin, Olson, Ripp, Rutkowski, Salkin, Schoer, and Wiganowsky.

The only votes against the Living wage were by Supervisors Anderson, Michael Blaska, Heiliger, and Hitzeman.

There appears to have been no organized opposition to the measure, other than a one-man crusade by Jim Mohrbacher who represents the 18th District on Madison's north side. Mohrbacher voted against the ordinance in committee and showed up to testify against it at another committee meeting, but in the end he apparently bowed to constituent wishes and voted in favor. During the floor debate, Supervisors Schoer and David Blaska attempted to create some mischief by offering three amendments. Only one amendment passed, and it did not weaken the ordinance.

In the spring and early summer of 1998, a subcommittee of the Living Wage Campaign's Steering Committee, along with Supervisors Lowe and Hendrick, met frequently with County Executive Kathleen Falk and her staff, as well as staff from the County's Department of Administration, to hammer out the details of the ordinance. The final product was unveiled on September 3, 1998 at a news conference called by the County Executive and attended by the County Board Chair and several other supportive Supervisors and the Campaign's Steering Committee. The ordinance was introduced at the County Board meeting that night with 23 of the 39 Supervisors signing on as co-sponsors.

The ordinance applies to thousands of workers, and, while it is difficult to determine the exact number who will receive raises as a result of the ordinance, it is probable that that number will exceed one thousand and that over two thousand have or will receive wage increases because of budget initiatives during the course of the Living Wage Campaign and as a result of the Ordinance itself.

In celebrating this victory it is important to acknowledge the role of Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and her staff, as well as the Department of Administration, especially Mary Rapp who shepherded the negotiations, the drafting, and the journey through County Board Committees, the County's Corporate Counsel, the Department of Human Services, and, of course, lead sponsors John Hendrick, Darold Lowe, and Tom Stoebig, as well as all the other Supervisors who voted for the ordinance.

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Madison Follows Suit
By 13-5 Council Vote

Following on the heels of Dane County's March 18 enactment of a Living Wage ordinance, the Madison Common Council passed a Living Wage ordinance by a vote of 13-5, March 30. The ordinance will cover firms with city service contracts of $5000 or more, firms receiving $100,000 or more of city economic development assistance, and the city itself. Employees will be paid 100 percent of the poverty level for a family of four beginning immediately (currently $7.91), 105 percent of the poverty level next year, and 110 percent of the poverty level in 2001.

Voting in favor of the Madison ordinance were co-sponsors Judy Olson, Barbara Vedder, Mike Verveer, Jean MacCubbin, Mike Staude, and Gary Poulson, along with Alders Linda Bellman, Tracey Amato, Ken Golden, Napoleon Smith, Tim Bruer, Santiago Rosas, and Steve Holtzman. Voting against were Ron Reif, Susan Hamblin, Dorothy Borchardt, David Schneider, and Roberta Kiesow. Alders Jake Altwegg and Warren Onken were absent.

Supporters of the ordinance argued simply that the city should not promote poverty amongst its citizens through its contracts or economic development assistance. Opponents did not appear to be organized and made only vague arguments about potential costs.

With this victory at the city, the Living Wage Campaign now turns its attention to the Madison Metropolitan School District.

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A Short Recap of the
Living Wage Campaign

Passage of Living Wage ordinances by Dane County and the City of Madison is the culmination of a two-and-a-half year campaign led by the South Central Federation of Labor and Progressive Dane, the local New Party affiliate.

The Dane County Living Wage Campaign was launched in October 1996 with a series of Town Hall meetings at the Madison Labor Temple. These meetings determined the Campaign's goals and organizational structure. Over the course of the campaign numerous religious organizations, non-profits, labor unions and individuals signed on as supporters.

A Steering Committee with representatives from the South Central Federation of Labor, Progressive Dane, and the Developmental Disabilities Coalition of Dane County was charged with seeing the campaign's goal through to enactment of legislation. Labor unions, the Wisconsin Community Fund, and several individuals contributed to the Campaign's budget which provided trainings, literature, newsletters to the Campaign's database of some 3000 names, and temporary staffing in the summer of 1997.

The Campaign held a mayoral forum on the issue during the 1997 primary, sponsored a rally of over 300 people in August 1997, organized testimony at key times through the legislative process, and urged citizens to lobby their local representatives. The South Central Federation of Labor made support of the Living Wage Ordinances a condition for even receiving consideration of an endorsement for candidates for Dane County Board and County Executive and Madison Common Council and Mayor.

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For more information contact:
the South Central Federation of Labor at 256-5111
or Progressive Dane at 257-4985
or email us at:


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