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New Ground 49

November - December, 1996


  • The Jobs & Living Wage Ordinance: Commentary and Summary by Bob Roman
  • Radio Free Maine by Allan H. Keith
  • Other News by Bob Roman
  • Socialist International
    Chicago Jobs with Justice
  • Letters

  • The Jobs & Living Wage Ordinance: Commentary and Summary

    by Bob Roman

    Deprived of the right to organize and bargain collectively, workers around the nation are engaged in campaigns raise the standard of living of the working poor through legislative action.

    These campaigns have taken two forms. One is to raise the minimum wage for most or all employees. The other is to require a living wage be paid the employees of some or all the vendors to the government or the recipients of government aid. In addition to the successful effort to raise the Federal minimum wage, there are active campaigns for an increased minimum wage or a living wage in at least six states and well over a dozen municipalities and counties, and more are being organized. In Illinois, there is talk of introducing a Living Wage Ordinance in Cook County.

    Despite the wide popularity of such measures, none of the campaigns has had an easy time of it. The increase in the Federal minimum wage was sweetened by numerous handouts to small businesses. In many state and local campaigns, legislation was passed only after the scope, the number of effected employers and employees, was reduced significantly. The irony of local governments enthusiastically subsidizing sports teams but unwilling to help the working poor has been an education in class politics.

    In Chicago, the Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance was introduced into the City Council in July. The timing was designed to take advantage of the Democratic Convention as a venue to pressure the Daley Administration into moving the measure through the Council (see March - April 1996 New Ground).

    Alderman Preckwinkle's pessimism over the prospects of moving the Administration has been generally correct, but the aldermen are another matter. Partly because of a growing unease in the City Council, there have been some exploratory talks between the Jobs and Living Wage Campaign and the Daley Administration. It would be an exaggeration to call them negotiations, but it is a start.

    The Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance, as introduced in July, represents something close to a maximum position. Its scope is broadly defined. More importantly, it attempts to target the benefits of a living wage to the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago through a system of community-based hiring halls. If passed approximately as introduced, residents of Chicago would benefit most. And the ordinance would create opportunities for community organizing. As introduced, it also provides plenty of room for compromise.

    Section 1 of the Ordinance is the Title and the Purpose. The purpose is:

    "...to assure that employees of city contractors, subcontractors and beneficiaries of tax, loan, grant, and subsidy assistance provided by the City earn an hourly wage that is sufficient for a family of four to live at or above the federal poverty level. This ordinance is also designed to maximize access for low- and moderate- income Chicagoans to the jobs that are created, maintained, or subsidized through City assistance."

    In other words, the targeted population of this legislation is the employees of vendors and agencies that the city with goods and services and businesses and agencies that are the recipients of subsidies from the City.

    Section 2 is the heart of the Living Wage portion of the ordinance. It basically states that "A Beneficiary shall pay no less than the Living Wage to each of its Covered Employees." The ordinance starts out by defining these terms.

    "Assistance" is defined as "any grant, loan, tax incentive or abatement, bond financing, subsidy, contract with a not-for-profit social service provider, or other form of assistance of $50,000 or more that is ... provided to an employer of at least 25 employees..." Assistance also includes vendors with at least 10 employees and a city contract of $5,000 or more.

    "Beneficiary" is, of course, any business or party who is a recipient of "Assistance". Except that a beneficiary could also be a company or employer that is a tenant or leaseholder of a beneficiary. Or a beneficiary could even be a subcontractor of or a vendor to a beneficiary, provided that those goods and services are "used by that Beneficiary in the project or matter for which the Beneficiary has received Assistance". But a supplier of only materials to a "Beneficiary will not itself be considered to be a Beneficiary if 1% or less of its sales are to Beneficiaries as defined in this Chapter."

    "Covered Employee" is also a definition with interesting implications. A Covered Employee is: "...a person employed by A Beneficiary in, on, or for the project or matter for which the Beneficiary has received Assistance. A 'Covered Employee' does not include any person employed in construction. A 'Covered Employee' does not include a person nineteen years of age or younger employed during summer months in a program funded by the City ... to create summer jobs for students and teenagers."

    The Living Wage is to be no less than $7.60 an hour in 1996. The City Council is to adjust the amount each year, no later than March 1, based on U.S. poverty level for a family of four or by applying the consumer price index to the original $7.60, which ever is greater. There is no provision for deflationary episodes.

    Employers are given nine months each year to bring their compensation into compliance. The ordinance further provides that there will be an increase regardless of whether the City Council fulfills its responsibilities. And it requires the City to pay its employees no less than the Living Wage.

    The net result is that cost of living adjustments to the living wage can lag up to a year behind actual changes in the economy. This should minimize any inflationary effects of the ordinance.

    The ordinance states the "Living Wage is a floor, not a ceiling ..." and that it cannot "...be read to require or authorize any Beneficiary to reduce wages set by a collective bargaining agreement." Employers cannot fund a Living Wage by reducing non-wage benefits, but the City's funding of "social service delegate agencies" will support said agencies' payment of a living wage.

    Much of the paperwork and enforcement of this part of the ordinance falls upon the Corporation Counsel, City Clerk and the "Applicable Department". The last could either be the City of Chicago Planning Department or the City of Chicago Purchasing Department, depending upon the form of Assistance.

    The costs related to enforcement and to monitoring have already been a subject of some controversy (see September - October, 1996, New Ground). Businesses, for profit and non-profit, have legitimate reason to be concerned about the burden of paperwork. Some of it should not be an issue as some of the information required are things any good business should be tracking anyway. Other things, like the requirement that businesses collect similar information from contractors, subcontractors and leaseholders, may be a bit problematic.

    The ordinance requires each Beneficiary to certify to the Applicable Department, prior to entering into any agreement with the city, that it is or will be paying its Covered Employees no less than the Living Wage. It further provides that a copy of this certification should be on file for public inspection at the Office of the City Clerk.

    The ordinance requires a publicly - available "Notice of Application for Assistance" be on file with the City Clerks' office prior to any contracts for Assistance. This document includes a dozen different items of information. In addition, the Application for Assistance is required to have additional information regarding prospective tenants, leaseholders and contractors if any of these qualify as "Beneficiaries" under the ordinance. The information required would be worth listing if we had the space.

    The Corporation Counsel may request that the City Council grant a partial or whole exception to the Living Wage if a particular application of the ordinance is in violation of a specific State or Federal statutory, regulatory or constitutional provision or provisions.

    Beneficiaries are required to file with the Applicable Department a complete set of payroll records for its Covered Employees every six months. There are additional requirements about the information required in the records and a requirement that the Beneficiary preserve the records for at least three years.

    The "Applicable Department" is responsible for monitoring this information and is responsible for causing "investigations to be made" if there is any question of compliance. The Corporation Counsel is empowered to issue subpoenas requiring testimony and documentation. Complaints by "Covered Employees" may be made at any time, are confidential, and will result in an investigation. Retaliatory discharge or discrimination is forbidden. Action is not limited to the City. Individuals and unions may also sue in court for relief under the ordinance.

    Penalties are any or all of the following:

    "(a) A fine payable to the City of Chicago in the sum of $500 for each week for each employee found to have not been paid in accordance with this Chapter;

    (b) Wage restitution for each affected employee;

    (c) Suspension of ongoing contracts and subcontract payments; and

    (d) Ineligibility for future City Assistance for three years or until all penalties and restitution have been paid in full, whichever is longer. In addition, all Beneficiaries having any principal officers who were principal officers of a barred Beneficiary shall be ineligible to receive any Assistance from the City of Chicago."

    The next section deals with the rather badly misnamed City Assistance Advisory Committee. It is (begging your pardon for the pejorative connotations) a fine example of municipal fascism, in the sense that it is an appointed governing body consisting of the major institutional stakeholders. This is not an unusual practice for advisory committees, but the City Assistance Advisory Committee is more than just an advisory committee. This leaves it open to charges of conflict of interest.

    Section 3 sets up a 16 member City Assistance Advisory Committee whose purpose is to review the effectiveness of the ordinance. The committee is also responsible "for designating those entities that are approved Community-Based Hiring Halls and for revoking that designation when appropriate".

    Four members are appointed by the City Council Committee on Committees, Rules and Ethics. Four members are union members selected by the Chicago Federation of Labor. Four members shall be members of not-for-profit organizations qualifying as Community Based Hiring Halls and selected by the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Campaign. Four members are representatives of Beneficiaries, of whom two are selected by the Mayor, one by the Economic Development Commission and one by the Private Industry Council. Meetings are at least quarterly.

    Section 4 essentially requires the "Applicable Departments" to prepare a summary of some of the data they are required to collect, most particularly a list of Assistance packages and the Beneficiaries. This "City Assistance Report" would be compiled quarterly and provided to the City Clerk, the City Council, the Corporation Counsel, the City Assistance Advisory Committee, and each approved Community Based Hiring Hall. The reports are public documents.

    Section 5 is the "Jobs" portion of the Jobs and Living Wage ordinance. This section attempts to steer the benefits of the living wage into the poorest neighborhoods.

    It first off exempts construction jobs and gives any laid off city employees first priority for any "jobs covered under this ordinance if they would have had rights to such jobs if the work were being performed by city employees."

    This section requires Beneficiaries to enter into a "First Source Hiring Agreement" with one or more Community - Based Hiring Hall, the only exception being if none of the Halls were interested in such an agreement. This agreement basically means that a Beneficiary will "consider employment referrals from Community - Based Hiring Halls for at least five business days before it uses any alternative means of recruiting or hiring new employees". Only city residents would get referrals.

    Beneficiaries would be required agree to an "Employment Agreement" with the above provisions in order to be eligible for any form of "Assistance". Beneficiaries would be required to file quarterly public reports with the City Clerk and the Applicable Department with demographic, economic information about the people hired or laid off "in, on, or for the project or matter for which the Beneficiary has received Assistance".

    The Community - Based Hiring Halls may be a service operated by a labor union or a not-for-profit organization, but it must be approved by the City Assistance Advisory Committee. Non-profits must have a membership base in Chicago, a "record of conducting outreach in low- and moderate- income ... communities and a governing board comprised of a majority of low- and moderate- income Chicago residents". There are additional requirements regarding the jobs bank and referrals, intended to insure the services can actually perform placements.

    Unions and "Community - Based Hiring Halls" may file a complaint of non-compliance with the Applicable Department which then forwards it to City Assistance Advisory Committee. The City Assistance Advisory Committee may hold hearings. The ordinance implies that such a hearing would be a necessary step in issuing a written finding of compliance or non-compliance, but it doesn't say so explicitly.

    If the City Assistance Advisory Committee finds non-compliance, the Corporation Counsel issues an itemized citation and the Beneficiary has 90 days to take corrective action. If the Beneficiary fails to comply, the City Assistance Advisory Committee schedules a special compliance hearing.

    Strangely, it is the City Council rather than the courts that decides whether and what sanctions should be applied to violators. A finding of "Failure to Remedy" gets referred to the City Council with a recommendation about what sanctions may be imposed. The ordinance does not say whether it is the Corporation Counsel or the Advisory Committee that formulates the recommendation. The sanctions may include: fines up to $500 per day for each violation, payable to the City of Chicago; the filing of a complaint with an appropriate federal agency; termination of ongoing Assistance; temporary or permanent debarment or denial of any future opportunities for said Beneficiary to receive City Assistance.

    The sections dealing with the City Assistance Advisory Committee are probably the more politically interesting sections of the ordinance. The most practical way to organize the very poorest segments of a population is to offer concrete benefits to being organized. It's a technique that has both an honorable and a dishonorable history. And while any governmental process can be politicized, the enforcement of employment agreements seems to provide excellent opportunities for campaigns of outrage. Certainly placing enforcement in the hands of the City Council places the matter squarely in the field of politics.

    Sections six and seven are brief technical provisions regarding severability and effective dates.

    Copies of the ordinance should be available through your local alderman. It is, at least, a good test of the alderman's service staff. You can also obtain it from the City Clerk's City Council Office which is buried obscurely in the basement of City Hall. There's no web site. Indeed, they have no computers beyond a memory typewriter or two. Good hunting.

    Radio Free Maine

    by Allan H. Keith

    A native of Central Illinois is in the forefront of efforts to help spread progressive social and political ideas by making them more accessible to the public. Roger Leisner, who was born in Decatur, Illinois, operates Radio Free Maine, based in Augusta, Maine.

    One of his primary activities is producing and distributing tapes of speeches by a variety of liberal and left-wing activists, writers and intellectuals.

    Many of Leisner's audio and video tapes feature Noam Chomsky, nationally known for his speeches and writings which expose the seemingly limitless shortcomings of capitalism.

    Chomsky, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is world famous as a linguist, but in recent years he has become well known as a speaker and writer whose critiques of capitalism and imperialism captivate audiences on and off college campuses.

    Some titles of Chomsky's talks include: "Bringing the Third World Home: the Domestic Policies of the GOP Right", "Resisting Corporate America's War on Working People", and "Media Censorship and Our Right to Know".

    Other tapes feature such people as authors Cornell West, Frances Fox Piven, and Howard Zinn, the author of A People's History of the United States.

    Other speakers include Jesse Jackson, Jerry Brown, Ralph Nader, Angela Davis, and Chicago 7 defendant David Dellinger.

    In recent months Leisner's Radio Free Maine has become much better known nationally as the Associated Press distributed a feature story about Leisner and Radio Free Maine.

    Radio Free Maine was also mentioned last year in Playboy Magazine in a review of Chomsky's tape on "The Role of the Media in Manufacturing Consent".

    Since then (and since the AP story appeared) sales of tapes have increased. Leisner also distributes the tapes to radio stations that might consider playing them. These include Free Radio Berkeley, affiliates of Pacifica Radio, Radio Havana and a number of low-wattage "pirate" stations.

    I knew Roger Leisner when we were both students at Southern Illinois University- Carbondale during the "days of dissent" in the late 60s and early 70s. Leisner was appointed by the "radical" student government at SIU as the student representative to the Carbondale City Council. That alone was enough to keep the "City Fathers" awake during those long City Council meetings!

    Roger and I were involved in producing the underground newspaper The Big Muddy Gazette. On-campus sales of the paper at one point were banned, but with pressure from students, faculty and the ACLU, the SIU Administration backed down from that patently unconstitutional edict.

    A list of available tapes can be obtained from Roger Leisner, Radio Free Maine, PO Box 2705, Augusta, Maine 04338. The phone number is (207) 622-6629.

    Other News

    by Bob Roman

    The Socialist International met in New York at the United Nations during the second week in September. Former French Prime Minister, Pierre Mauroy, was re-elected President of the SI. Some 33 new parties were enrolled as members or consultative members, including the MPLA from Angola, PAICU from Cape Verde and Frelimo from Mozambique.

    Chicago Jobs with Justice continues to blossom as the city's premier community - labor coalition. Plans are being made to graduate from operating on "borrowed" staff to having an employee of their own.

    The Workers' Rights Committee is planning further actions in support of cross border organizing, particularly in the garment industry. For information on actions planned in November and December, contact Frank Klein at (312) 738-6060.

    The Solidarity Committee meets the second Monday of each month, 6 PM, at the Teamsters Local 705 offices in Teamster City. The next meeting would be November 11. The committee is planning additional actions in support of the USWA Bridgestone / Firestone workers who still lack a contract and the locked out OCAW workers at the UNOCAL plant in Lemont. For additional information, contact cochairs Jack Spiegel at 312-472-3450 or Jerry Zero at 312-738-2800.

    The New Priorities Committee continues to hold its monthly forums. Unfortunately, the timing has been precisely wrong to get listed in New Ground's calendar, so for information on the next forum, call 312-666-3037.


    Dear Editor,

    I was glad to see your reprint of the Counter Media press release from the last day of the DNC, "Chicago Police Raid...". People in "our fair city" should also be aware of a much more serious violation of civil rights, free speech, etc.: the arrest on August 29 of five people [Michael Durschmid, Robert McDonald, Bonnie Torwich, Bennett Masel, and Rev. Ronald Schupp] connected to the Festival of Life. All are blamed for incidents which occurred not at the Festival but on August 27, during the Not on the Guest List march and protest.

    I can tell you that Rev. Ron Schupp and Mike Durshmid are totally innocent of the felony charges (mob action and assault on an officer) because I was with them during the whole action that night! All I can think is that because they are both outspoken local activists, they are being set up! Please check this case out. On October 1, Tuesday, at 26th and California, the "5" will of course plead "Not Guilty".

    Peace and Freedom,

    Bill Steyert


    Editor's Note: On October 1, pleas of "Not Guilty" were entered. A defense fund has been established for both the five people arrested at the Not on the Guest List demonstration (above) and the Active Resistance conference (September - October New Ground). The former involve felony charges and the latter are misdemeanors. For information regarding contributions to the Not on the Guest List defendants, contact the 8th Day Center: 312-641-5151. For information regarding contributions to the Active Resistance defendants, contact the Autonomous Zone: 312-278-0775

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