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City's living wage likely to rise to $9.59

Some employees who work for companies that have big contracts with the city would receive 6 percent raises this spring under a bill the Common Council plans to approve next week.

Workers at the lowest rung of the salary ladder haven't had raises in three years, said Samuel Magavern II, compliance coordinator for the city's Living Wage Commission.

Buffalo's Living Wage Law would increase to $9.59 an hour, up from $9.03, under a bill that sailed through the Council's Legislation Committee without dissent Tuesday. Employees who don't receive health benefits would make $10.77 an hour, up from $10.15.

The law applies to vendors with city contracts worth at least $50,000 and who have more than 10 employees. Companies that provide parking, food, security, janitorial and landscaping services are among those who must comply with the law. Assuming the Council and Mayor Byron W. Brown approve the increase, covered employees would see rates go up by at least 56 cents an hour.

"That's a big difference when you're making $9 an hour," Magavern said. "For some people, it can make the difference between having the basic necessities or going without them."

About 170 workers would be immediately covered, but the number could swell because one new clause would include about 500 temporary workers the city hires to collect garbage and perform other chores. However, the seasonal employees would only receive raises when the city's control board lifts a wage freeze that has been in place since April 2004.

South Council Member Michael P. Kearns said it's wrong that temporary employees who make only $8.15 an hour would have to wait until the wage freeze is lifted to receive an increase. "[Seasonal workers] save the city a ton of money," he said.

He said the city could be accused of hypocrisy, because it forces vendors to pay higher salaries than what the city's lowest-paid laborers make.

Meanwhile, the Living Wage Commission is negotiating with Rural/Metro Medical Services, which provides 911 ambulance services in Buffalo. Magavern said if Rural/Metro is forced to comply, up to 200 employees would be covered.

The Council is expected to approve the revised law at Tuesday's meeting. The bill includes a provision that would provide cost-of-living adjustments each year, increases that mirror the inflation rate.

The Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the region's largest business advocacy group, has warned in the past that forcing vendors to pay higher salaries could drive up costs for consumers and the city. But Magavern said national studies have shown that similar laws in other cities have had minimal, if any, impact on costs.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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