Living Wage Reporter

The Periodic Newsletter of the Dane County Living Wage Campaign - September 1998

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City Ordinance Introduced:
County to Follow on Sept. 3

Agency Chief Touts Living Wage Benefits

Just the Facts:
Why Does Madison Need a Living Wage Ordinance

Chicago Passes Living Wage

Some Employers Can't Wait






City Ordinance Introduced;
County to Follow on Sept. 3

In 1979, one in four jobs paid poverty-level wages. By 1996, poverty wage jobs had increased to one in three. That trend will, hopefully, be reversed in Madison and Dane County where Living Wage ordinances are about to be considered by local government bodies.

The Dane County Living Wage Campaign, under the leadership of the South Central Federation of Labor and Progressive Dane, has concluded most of its negotiations on a proposed ordinance with County officials. Those discussions have been fruitful and a news conference has been scheduled for 10 a.m., Thursday, September 3, in the County Executive’s Conference Room at the City-County Building.

“At this news conference, we are optimistic that County Executive Kathleen Falk and supportive County Board Supervisors will announce a major step forward for the Campaign,” said Jim Cavanaugh, chair of the Living Wage Campaign Steering Committee.

Last year, city and county budget initiatives increased wages for targeted workers to a minimum of $7.50 an hour. Under the county’s initiative, $1.17 million alone went to increase wages for employees of agencies providing human services to Dane County residents.

After more than a year of study, the City of Madison’s Living Wage Task Force presented its report to the Madison Common Council, August 18. The report recommends an ordinance that would mandate a “living wage” for employees of city government, those working under service contracts for the city, and employees of firms receiving economic development assistance from the city.

Under the proposed ordinance, affected workers would be paid a minimum wage pegged at 100 percent of the poverty level for a family of four, or $7.91, beginning in 1999. Mirroring the goals of the Living Wage Campaign, the proposal also calls for increasing the wage rate by 5 percent, plus inflation, over each of the next two years until the goal of 110 percent of the poverty level is reached in 2001.

A posting requirement, similar to that for the federal minimum wage law, will be required for all work sites, and penalties of up to $200 a day can be enforced against employers who do not comply. Withholding of payments, contract termination, and denial of future contracts are possible additional penalties.

The cost of paying “living wages” to city taxpayers would be quite modest, only about $40,000 according to budget analyst Dan Bohrod. However, the plan to include the wage requirement for businesses receiving more than $100,000 in economic development assistance is already drawing criticism. Skeptics questioned whether, for example, a fast food restaurant located in an office building built with Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) should have to pay a living wage and whether that would have a “chilling effect” on development.

“It’s not fair for some people to benefit from economic assistance from the city and others not to benefit,” responded Living Wage Task Force chair and Sixth District Alderperson Judy Olson.

Child Care Workers
While wage standards will not be mandated for child care workers, additional Task Force proposals may help bring higher wages to workers in centers serving a large percentage of low-income parents. The Task Force recommends establishing a $120,000 annual grant program to fund co-pays for low-income parents participating in W-2. The grants would be available to city-certified child care centers that submit plans to raise wages for child care workers.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that higher worker retention rates significantly improve the quality of child care.

Finally, the Task Force recommends that the Mayor and Common Council appoint a Living Wage Board to address other issues related to the Living Wage such as health care and wage compression.

Now that the negotiations and proposals have been completed, the Living Wage Campaign will focus on getting the measures passed by the Common Council and the Dane County Board of Supervisors. The ordinances will be referred to various committees where the public will have opportunities to provide testimony.


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Agency Chief Touts Living Wage Benefits

The care and treatment of people with developmental disabilities has changed dramatically since the 1950’s. Children who in the past were placed in state institutions are now mainstreamed into public schools. As adults, many lead productive lives with varying degrees of independence in their home communities.

Richard Berling, a member of the Dane County Living Wage Campaign Steering Committee, has worked with people with developmental disabilities for almost a quarter of a century and has seen the changes firsthand. On the Steering Committee, Berling represents the Developmental Disabilities Coalition of Dane County, an association of 36 agencies providing community based services to about 1,200 adults with developmental disabilities.

“The system used to have low expectations, believing that it was best for people to be passive, sitting by the window, watching television, and not have the challenges for personal growth the rest of us enjoy,” Berling explained. “But people were real excited to get out of the nursing home and do things, take jobs and earn money. They never thought they could do it but, in fact, a lot of people are very successful.”

Over the years, the trend toward deinstitutionalization has fed the growth of low-wage jobs and less fringe benefits in a gray area of the economy outside of both the public and private sectors. Berling estimates that workers in these predominantly female “helping” professions are compensated at half the amount earned by unionized workers performing similar work in nursing homes and institutions.

Berling is the executive director for the Madison Area Rehabilitation Centers (MARC). Although MARC workers already receive a living wage, “It’s not as much as we want to pay,” says Berling. “We need the government to wake up to its responsibility, not just for quantity of service, but for quality of service.”

Can’t Recruit or Retain Workers
“When staffing levels are at less than 100 percent, and even as low as 80 percent, and it takes two or three months to fill positions, that places a tremendous burden and stress on existing staff who have to cover more clients,” says Berling. “It also means staff get less time for training and supervision, and less time to communicate with clients and management. Vacations get postponed and it creates hardships.”

“People can take that for a month, or two or three, but after four or six months they’re just burned out when they realize there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.” That, says Berling, affects the quality of care for the clients, many of whom require around-the-clock supervision.
“We’re under constant pressure to do more with less,” Berling says, adding that funding for human services agencies has barely kept up with inflation, and wages often decline when benefits costs like health care escalate. “The squeeze has been put on from all sides and it’s hurt the quality of service we provide.”

“Achieving the living wage would begin to rectify the inequity,” says Berling, adding that he would like to see a public review of what’s equitable in terms of the government pursuing private contracts to save money.

Investing in People
“We often hear that market forces should decide wages,” says Berling. “Well, that would be fine if we were given the funding to compete in the labor market, or conversely, were able to reduce staff numbers by cutting services. But we have both a moral and a political obligation to maintain a certain level of services. People just can’t be left without.”

Several years ago, an associate degree program was developed by the Madison Area Technical College to train workers to work with people with disabilities. “But the program died because there was no compensation tied to the training. It just didn’t add up,” Berling explained. “You could go into printing and make $12 an hour, but working with people with disabilities you would make only $6. In the ideal world employee accreditation would be a wonderful thing. With an investment in training and some earning potential and career ladders, it would be worthwhile for employees to stay 5 or 10 years.”

Berling sees a definite correlation between wages, retention and quality. “What makes MARC tick is the collective memory of the staff that have been here more than 2 or 3 years. They’ve seen all behaviors and health needs. They’ve seen what can go wrong so they have a sense of prevention.”

Need for Advocacy
“I think that families should understand that even though they can advocate for services for one person at one point in time, they need to maintain that advocacy over time and for everyone else in the system,” Berling says. “Parents and families need to have the confidence to speak out and call their legislators. We have as reputable and virtuous a purpose as any and we deserve to be heard.”

“We’re saving millions of dollars a year. By making people as self-sufficient and independent as possible – so they can feed, cloth and bath themselves – it reduces the staff requirement. Some of those savings should be consciously and morally reinvested to maintain certain standards in the system. Living wages is an expression of one of those standards,” says Berling.

Berling believes in assertive tactics. “If we are going to see things change, we have to be the ones who make that happen. If everybody was up there testifying, supporting petitions that said these are good agencies, they deserve living wages, give them the money, then we could take charge of our future.”

“But a lot of people are afraid of the political process, they’re afraid to make a commitment to being responsible for determining what their future is going to be. Some would rather give credit or blame to bureaucrats or public officials than themselves,” he laments.

“If you had advocacy like that for the space program or the public highways or the public schools, then I think we’d be up front or actually ahead of those systems because we have the best cause of any of them. It takes commitment to do that.”

At the same time Berling advocates for more public money, he also believes that improved management can help redirect money and increase efficiency. “We need to be realistic about what we can accomplish and how we can change the system to our mutual advantage.” He also wants to see measurements applied to determine if resources are being used efficiently, and to see if the goals of building a stronger community, job retention and quality services are being met.

“Politically, if you have an election and the balance of forces change, all of a sudden your reliance on individual people, a philosophy, and one brand of politics can backfire,” Berling explains. “That’s not the same as relying on measurements.”

“It’s going to take advocacy, lobbying by parents, building coalitions, working with labor. It’s going to take people working together to make quality human services an expectation. We should have the best in the country.”

Berling encourages lobbying both sides of the aisle. “Developmental disabilities effects all of us, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, creed or color.”

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Just the Facts

Why Does Madison and Dane County Need a Living Wage?

Aside from the fact that it’s the fair thing to do …

  • Over 1979-96, the share of poverty wage jobs in the state increased from 1-in-4 to 1-in-3.
  • Even with the recent minimum wage increase, a full-time minimum wage worker today still earns only 65 percent of the federally established poverty level for a family of four.
  • A January 1997 Cost of Living survey conducted by Joseph Colletti of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development found that an hourly wage of $11.33 was necessary for a single person to live independently in a one-bedroom apartment in Dane County. That wage did not take into account health care or retirement savings.
  • A report issued in January by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families found that the wages of the bottom fifth of Wisconsin workers fell by nearly 20 percent between 1976-78 and 1992-94.
  • The Center for Mobility Resources places Madison's cost of living between 4 to 14 percentage points higher than the national average for 1995-96.
  • Median housing costs in Dane County are 9.3 percent higher than the State as a whole.
  • The average rate for full-time quality infant care in Madison is $154 per week.
  • According to a study by the Developmental Disabilities Coalition of Dane County, 70 percent of personal care workers work second jobs to make ends meet. Eight percent have three jobs.
  • According to the Chamber of Commerce, Madison’s cost of living was 113.8 percent of the U.S. average in 1993.
  • Since the late 1970s, the poverty rate among Wisconsin children has increased 50 percent (from 10.4 to 15.1 percent) - better than half again as much as the national increase over the over the same period.
  • Using the ratio of the income of the top and bottom fifth of families as our measure, inequality has increased some 18 percent since the late 1980s alone - some 50 percent faster than it did nationally over that time.

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Chicago Passes
Living Wage

On July 28, the Chicago City Council voted unanimously to approve a living wage ordinance.
The ordinance will require companies that receive contracts from the city to pay their employees at least $7.60/hour. It immediately covers some 3-5000 employees, and no doubt will be expanded over time now that the principle has been established.

In real terms, this means that some full-time workers currently earning $10-12,000 per year will earn more than $15,000.

The vote on the Living Wage preceeded another vote to give the Aldermen THEMSELVES a pay raise.

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Some Employers Can’t Wait

Human service agencies caught up in a highly competitive labor market are taking it upon themselves to initiate Living Wage increases. Goodwill in Madison and four Rock County agencies serving people with developmental disabilities have implemented Living Wages to help resolve staff recruitment and retention problems.

After raising low-wage workers pay by $1.25 an hour and establishing an $8 an hour minimum, January 1, the Rock County agencies immediately realized the successes they had anticipated. “Staff retention has in fact, increased. We are seeing that employees are more willing to go the extra mile, and are willing to stay and work through any problems on the job,” said Pam Bidne, the Area Director for Dungarvin. The number of new applicants increased five-fold following the wage increases, according to Bidne.

After experiencing an extended period of short-staffing created by increased turnover and difficult hiring, Goodwill Industries based in Madison, also found it necessary to increase wages on their own initiative.

Wage rates for Community Support Specialists increased by $1 an hour to a new $9 an hour minimum. While Goodwill views the wage increases as a positive investment of resources there is concern that it may hamper the organization’s ability to respond to other community needs.

Goodwill’s management has asked the County to help offset the wage increases and continue to honor the community’s commitment to people with disabilities.

However, most agencies are not in a position to be able to fund such increases. It will be up to the Dane County Living Wage Campaign and its supporters to help the public to realize that the investment in the community is necessary and desirable.

“Our supporters must remain on guard against less-than-socially-responsible elements who will be looking for ways to thwart or weaken these proposals,” says Cavanaugh. Supporters can easily do two things, Cavanaugh says, “Let our alders and supervisors know that they must be firmly in support of the Living Wage, and take advantage of public forums like talk radio and the newspaper op/ed pages to show broad based community support.”

Advocates and workers who will be affected by the Living Wage proposals are encouraged to call the South Central Federation of Labor or Progressive Dane for information on committee hearings. Others wishing to help out in other ways with the final push are also encouraged to call.

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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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