It has been a long and at times difficult road that Councilmember Lamar Heystek has taken en route to the first step towards a $13 per hour living wage for city employees and city contracted employees.
Some of the same Councilmembers, specifically Stephen Souza and Don Saylor, who praised the persistence and patience of Councilmember Heystek on Tuesday night, had put up roadblocks in the past toward achieving a living wage ordinance.
In Councilmember Lamar Heystek’s second meeting on the Davis City Council, on August 1, 2006, he brought up the issue of having a living wage for all businesses in Davis larger than 50 employees. The Council led then by Don Saylor and Stephen Souza voted by a 3-2 margin not to agendize the item for discussion. Instead they encouraged Councilmember Heystek to bring the item back as a Councilmember item–which meant it would not have staff prepared remarks or a recommendation. When Councilmember Heystek did this back in September 19, 2006, he was excoriated by both Councilmembers Souza and Saylor for “playing politics.”
Councilmember Don Saylor was particularly vicious in his criticism:
“There’s just a number of questions about this,” Councilman Don Saylor said. “To bring it up as a discussion is appropriate. To bring it up as a full-blown ordinance for a first reading, that’s not talking about policy, that’s talking about politics in a lead-up to an election.”
It was thus not without irony that Don Saylor remarked on Tuesday night, that this was how he preferred to have the item brought up–with a full staff report that weighed in on how other cities have dealt with living wage ordinances, what the pay rates for such an ordinance might be, and the overall cost to the city in terms of increased wages.
Bill Camp from the Sacramento Central Labor Council and Guy Rinfrow from the United Healthcare Workers both came forward during public comment to press for a living wage.
Don Saylor had first requested a special study to be commissioned on the impact to the city budget and business, but the labor leaders rejected this as a delay tactic. It was in many ways, akin to punting on first down.
Again it was Lamar Heystek who took the lead and spoke passionately about the need for people to be able to afford to live in Davis on what they are earning. In particular, he looked toward at minimum paying people what they could afford to pay if they received affordable housing in Davis. Our pay scale at present does not even pay that amount to the workers earning the lowest wages.
The point was brought up that the City of Davis was pressing UC Davis to bring its food service workers in house, yet how can the city have standing to complain about UC tactics, if they themselves do not practice what they preach.
There was strong consensus on council to bring back a living wage ordinance, with a full economic impact report, for discussion and approval by the summer.
Meanwhile, the council had to determine what to do with two outsourced contracts to landscaping and janitorial services.
Councilmember Don Saylor moved that we approve the contract for another year and then once the living wage ordinance was in place, they could sign a new contract when this one expired. However, this motion did not appear to have support.
Once again Lamar Heystek passionately said that he could not in good conscience agree to an outsourced contract that did not pay living wage. He pushed for the contract to contain a minimum of $13.11 per hour. For a time it appeared that this might be the consensus of three Councilmembers.
However, then Don Saylor moved for a substitute that would expire at the end of the calendar year and thus not extend the contract beyond this year.
One could see that Councilmember Stephen Souza was conflicted on this. Both Councilmember Saylor and Assistant City Manager Paul Navazio pushed him on the item, particularly with their view that the city had not yet done an impact study to see the economic impact of a $13.11 wage. This pressure eventually got to Councilmember Stephen Souza and he joined Saylor and Mayor Pro Tem Asmundson to pass the contract extension by a 3-2 vote. Mayor Sue Greenwald remained firmly with Councilmember Heystek in opposition to any contract extension that did not carry with it a living wage provision.
It seemed clear that Councilmember Saylor thought he was going to get full council consensus, but Heystek and Greenwald remained adamant in their convictions. The same could not be said for Stephen Souza who eventually caved under the pressure of his colleague.
However, this setback should not overlook the great progress made on the issue of living wage. But it is not enough to merely implement it for city contracts. The city of Davis should ensure that employees of large businesses–not the small business that has a handful of employees–but the large businesses that can afford to pay a bit more in salary so that people can afford to live in Davis are paid a living wage.
We are always talking about affordable housing and providing housing for people of moderate means and yet we usually only deal on that side of the equation and never look toward the wages side of the equation. The information that came from this discussion was sobering. Our lowest wage earners for the city do not make enough even to live in affordable housing projects. That simply cannot continue.
Many of these workers live outside of Davis and have to commute 20 to 25 miles to get to work. Thus, the lack of a living wage is not merely an economic issue, but it is also an environmental issue. The amount of carbon emissions and gas consumed indicates that our wage policies in Davis are a detriment to the environment and efforts at curbing global warming.
Were it not for the vision and tenacity of Lamar Heystek, this issue would not even be on the radar. He has exhibited true leadership on this issue that has earned the respect even of those colleagues who have opposed him from the start.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting