Living wage rally held outside Eau Claire City Hall

Published: Aug. 21, 2017 at 10:49 PM CDT
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One hot topic of discussion at Monday night’s Eau Claire City Council meeting includes a new ordinance increasing the living wage for 22 part-time or temporary city employees. However, many people say this ordinance should be broadened to include hundreds of city employees.

A handful of people and organizations made use of their 3 minute public comment period

“I’d like to see it come back to you, moving beyond 22 workers,” said one public commentator.

In what started as a friendly debate for Monday’s city council meeting, an ordinance up for vote Tuesday would raise the wages for 22 part-time city employees, increasing the general pay roll fund by $30,000.

City Council President Kerry Kincaid says it’s an ordinance that would be great for our community.

“With a tightening job market we need to pay attention to paying people better wages in order to attract the best workers,” she said. “We did a wage and compensation study in 2016 that showed about 12 percent of our workforce is below the hourly wage for public sector work. About 33 percent those positions are below private sector average wages, so we need to do a better job and pay people better from the outset in order to keep them here and keep really talented people in the public sector.”

But the local citizen action group, who held a rally against the ordinance outside city hall, alongside councilmembers Andrew Werthmann and Kate Beaton, says they support the increase of wages, but believe it should go further for more employees.

“This is a wage increase for one segment of workers in city and not a living wage ordinance that encompasses everybody,” Jeff Smith said, the lead organizer for the Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative of Western Wisconsin.

Werthmann adding the ordinance is a great model for the rest of the state, but agrees with Smith, that a living wage ordinance should be about more people.

“What it does at least for our city if it passes, is it sends a signal in the market place that higher wages are being offered in the city, but that helps apply upward pressure on everyone in our city,” Werthmann said. “But I think the message tonight will be about how we can broaden this ordinance and apply a living wage ordinance to more than just 22 people.”

Several people also stated during the public comment period they'd like the ordinance to change from a living wage to a wage increase.

City council members will not vote on this ordinance until Tuesday night’s meeting.