Councilors Bushor, Mason and Paul,
It has been very interesting hearing testimony over the last few ordinance committee meetings from the City Attorney, Jesse Bridges, Doug Hoffer and Gene Richards. We also found the discussion at the last meeting enlightening. As you may know the Peace & Justice Center was the lead organization that mobilized a livable wage movement throughout Vermont. There is massive community support for this campaign and the continued success is due to the efforts of our membership, community in general and the coalition of organizations including a huge amount of work contributed by the Vermont Workers’ Center. We are all extremely concerned with the City Attorney’s report of lack of compliance and enforcement of this law. While we applaud your dedication to finding a solution to this issue we also have concerns about the process and several items mentioned at the ordinance committee last week as well as in previous meetings. It seems that as a governing body you three have not taken ownership of the concept or philosophy of livable wage. The conversation seems to revolve around trying to understand what was the original intent of the city councilors that passed this ordinance rather than how to make sure that the city supports all workers ability to meet their basic needs. It seems clear that you would benefit from asking for testimony from any of the past directors of the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign (VLWC) in the same way that you requested testimony from the directors of Parks and Rec, the Airport and Doug Hoffer. Three of our former VLWC directors are Ellen Kahler, Emma Mulvaney-Stanak and Colin Robinson.
In tonight’s meeting as well as future meetings we urge you to focus on how to implement this ordinance rather than finding ways to make it more manageable by weakening the language and cutting out workers who were originally part of the law. Hopefully after hearing testimony from workers in the public comments portion of the meeting you will have a better sense of the importance of this ordinance in the community. We think that as representatives of the people of Burlington you have an equal obligation to hear from working people just as you seek advice from directors of departments and policy people rather than from those whose lives are drastically affected by this law.
We have heard at nearly all of your meetings that you are not sure why the language around the airport is different than other city leased property. We think in order for the ordinance to hold true to the principles of livable wage the language in the airport part of the ordinance should be expanded to all city leased property. We also think that all workers -including seasonal workers- should fall under the Livable Wage Ordinance rather than only year-round employees. We challenge the Parks department to substantiate their claims about the cost this would represent by showing actual data about seasonal workers and the impacts of increased wages.
If businesses can genuinely not survive and pay their workers a livable wage they should apply for an exemption. This process can also be improved. We would like all exemptions to go before the entire City Council even if the finance committee is unanimously in agreement of issuing an exemption. Businesses asking for an exemption should also be asked to open up their books and prove that they will not survive if they pay a livable wage to their staff. Additionally they should be required to give the city a plan for being able to pay a livable wage to all their employees. Any issued exemptions should be short term -no longer than two (2) years- so that the city can re-evaluate the business once established and have the ability to require them to pay a livable wage if the numbers show that they have the ability to.
We think that this is a great opportunity to bring the Burlington School District employees and contractors under the LWO as well. While it may take a period of time for these contracts to become compliant, this would mean that all Burlington employees were paid a livable wage. We feel it is reasonable for both the District and the Unions to embrace this basic needs standard.
These are just a few of the thoughts that the Peace & Justice Center feels are important for you to know. After watching the process unfold in front of us we realize that it is time to speak up and let you know where we stand. We look forward to hearing your thoughts tonight and being able to continue to support this process to insure that the City of Burlington supports it’s workers ability to meet their basic needs.
The Peace & Justice Center