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County Living

Photo by Ted Soqui

Los Angeles’ organized-labor cadres seemed to be all over the metropolis on Tuesday in their quest for the living wage. Workers and union officials attended a meeting of the city’s Board of Airports to lobby for better pay at LAX, made a strong presentation to the City Council the same morning on USC’s four-year resistance to the struggle of its food-service workers (see accompanying story), and further lobbied the council and the mayor on the same subject later that day.

But at the County Hall of Administration, where most of the day’s action had been foreseen, all was quiet on the living-wage front. This was because the final consideration of the county’s own living-wage law had been delayed a week at the request of conservative Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who wanted a chance to vote (probably against) the measure, but was out that day on jury duty.

The extra week of delay has left time for some fine-tuning of the legislation, which was introduced by Supervisor Yvonne Burke. But in the view of many of its local labor proponents, the county ordinance — which by itself could affect more California workers than any similar law so far — has a major flaw: It does not provide a living wage or benefit guarantees to part-time employees, only to full-timers. And full-time, the ordinance states, "means a minimum of 40 hours worked per work week."

"This is one of the very few living-wage ordinances in the country that would exclude part-time workers," says Madeline Janis-Aparicio of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). "By employing people for 30 hours a week or less, a contractor could avoid all provisions of the ordinance."

The proposed ordinance would require that employees of county contractors be paid a minimum of $8.32 per hour with health benefits, or $9.46 per hour without. In the first case, the employer would pay at least $1.14 per hour toward health benefits for "the employee and any dependents" — which would mean, for instance, that the janitors who clean the county hospitals, and their families, would get health insurance.

At this time, the only board member prepared to consider adding benefit and wage requirements for part-timers is Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. But his spokesman, Joel Bellman, terms the chances for such an amendment to be "slight," due to "resistance from other board offices." (According to one union official who asked not to be identified, a "particular sticking point" on extending benefits to the part-timers has been the opposition of Supervisor Gloria Molina. Miguel Santana, Molina’s chief deputy, says that she is against the provision because the county "will be requiring that all contracts only hire full-time employees . . . For the most part, there will be no part-time employees hired through our contracts.")

Bellman also notes that trying to add such provisions might stall the present ordinance’s passage for some time. He does not rule out the possibility that part-time employees might be brought under the living-wage tent next year. "This is a step-by-step approach," he says, that at least will cover full-time employees.

But LAANE’s Janis-Aparicio says she is worried that county contract employers could dodge the ordinance simply by hiring people to work a 30-hour week. "These workers would then get nothing" from the ordinance, she adds.

Indeed, faced with such ordinances and laws, employers elsewhere have increasingly resorted to using shifts of part-timers for positions previously filled by full-timers. This practice, she points out, was one of the key issues in the recent United Parcel Service strike.

Bellman suggests that the board members will keep an eye on how well the living-wage ordinance is being observed by county contractors. If the law’s spirit were being violated, he surmises that the board could revisit the measure and possibly tighten it up to prevent such abuses as hiring mostly part-timers to avoid its strictures.

Janis-Aparicio says that the organizations campaigning for the ordinance are pleased, at least, that the measure is in all probability headed for a 3-2 win when it goes before the board next week. Right now, she adds, LAANE is not completely certain how many full-time employees the new county law would benefit.

"The Los Angeles city law has helped at least 10,000 employees," she notes. "And the county employs many more people."

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