By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
|Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov|
At this point, all that can really be said of the county living-wage ordinance is that it narrowly passed, 3-2. Or, more precisely, that something called a living-wage ordinance passed. But, unfortunately for the more than 800 represented county workers and 10,000 county contract workers it ought to cover, what got passed could be the least effective living-wage law in California.
Los Angeles County’s living-wage ordinance lacks two vital features quite typical of such laws: first a codicil protecting all contract employees if the contract for their employment is passed from one contractor to another (although their jobs are supposedly protected if the contractor is fired). The other missing provision would have applied the living-wage standards to part-time workers. Though she didn’t return my calls, I’m guessing that the last provision was left out due to one key misconception by one politician: Supervisor Gloria Molina seems to think that part-timers don’t deserve a decent wage. Molina’s was the crucial third vote (along with Zev Yaroslavsky’s and Yvonne Burke’s) on the matter, and so she got her way: "A living wage for part-time workers is an oxymoron," she said — oxymoronbeing a $50 word for contradiction.
But I’ll tell you what an oxymoron really is. It is the notion that anyone who happens to be working in a part-time job doesn’t really need the money. Or any health and medical benefits either.
I must admit some strong partialities here. I’ve temped on and off in the past and worked part-time for two different news agencies, in the (vain) long-term hope of getting a full-time job with either concern. This, by the way, is the usual motivation for part-time workers. Another common reason is that the worker has more family obligations than a full-time schedule would permit. There are other motives for not working full-time, of course, an infinity of them. About the only one I’ve never encountered among my fellow part-timers is the one Molina appears to believe in: that people seek out part-time jobs solely for the delight of working for the minimum wage. Therefore, such thrill seekers deserve nothing better.
Now, maybe I’m exceptional, but I have never shared that turn-on and I don’t know anyone who has. The experience has more to do with working preposterous hours. I’ve done 17 hours in a row at two back-to-back jobs, and I know plenty of people who’ve worked more than that when stacking part-time jobs. It also has to do with learning to mend your own clothes, acquiring plenty of pinto-bean recipes and shopping at the Grand Central Market and the 99-cent Store. And it typically means showing up at your workplace whooping, wheezing and contagious, because, as an ailing part-timer, you don’t get any sick days. You give them. As Triana Silton, an SEIU Local 1877 organizer put it after last week’s hearing, "Very few [county] part-timers are really bored, rich housewives."
Beyond the low average wages of part-timers, of course, there’s another excellent reason to bring them under the living-wage tent. It’s the usual reason cited by those who promote the living wage: As long as part-timers earn less than full-time workers, any cash-flow-conscious county contractor would be crazy not to hire them in lieu of full-timers. In fact, stockholders in such a contracting firm might even sue management for making unwarranted expenditures by hiring more expensive full-timers instead of underpaid part-timers. Further, since the county’s new ordinance presently lacks a comprehensive worker-retention provision, there is little to prevent a new contractor from replacing a full-time work force with cheaper part-timers. "We have evidence that this has already happened in some janitorial contracts," said Yaroslavsky. "Workers in the Long Beach and East L.A. courthouses have very courageously stepped forward to tell us of such abuses."
Yaroslavsky said further that county staff would "very carefully monitor" the various county contracts, and promised that if similar abuses appear, "We’ll revisit it."
But as it stands, the biggest municipality ever to pass such an ordinance has just authorized what could be the weakest such law anywhere. Madeline Janis-Aparicio of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy said she believed the county’s was the only living-wage ordinance in the U.S. that didn’t protect part-time workers. But she added that even in its current form, "It’s not an insignificant thing . . . and we hope to come back next year to strengthen it."
Meanwhile, the county is definitely at the wrong end of the living-wage learning curve. According to a June 21 Business Weekarticle, one of the fastest-growing organizing drives in American labor is targeting part-time and temp employees — the collective term for whom is "contingent workers." This movement’s taken hold in New Jersey and South Carolina, and now the AFL-CIO is beginning a model contingent-worker recruiting program in the job-rich Silicon Valley. One of the article’s most interesting findings, by the way, was that fully two-thirds of those taking part-time work do so in the hopes that it will lead to full-time jobs. Not, as Ms. Molina seems to believe, to ease boredom between polo matches.