Possible New Living Wage Policy for Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools

On April 9, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools will present an unprecedented living wage policy for full and part-time employees to the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

According to School Board Member James Barrett, the idea for a living wage policy emerged from a cost-savings discussion during the summer of 2014 to move some school janitors from district to contract-based employment. In doing this, the city would save money at the expense of a drop in wage for workers.

The unanimous board-approved wage decrease from about $11.50 to $9.50 an hour infuriated Barrett, who was not present for the vote.

“I raised a fuss about it,” he said. “I didn’t think it was acceptable to give our lowest paid employees a twenty-percent cut while at the same time giving our highest paid employees—our administrators—a three-percent raise.”

Later in September, Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin continued the discussion of a living wage for both employees and contractors in a joint meeting between the school board and the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

The result of these discussions came in February with a final decision by the Board of Commissioners to create a living wage policy for county school employees only—excluding workers who provide contracted services.

The wage floor for the policy the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools Board of Education is proposing will be based on the county average of $11.76 an hour, and will most likely include both part-time ad full-time workers. According to Barrett, the total cost to pay all employees at at least the wage floor will be an estimated $36,000.

Looking forward, Barrett seems optimistic about the passing of the living wage policy for school employees because it is comparatively a small amount of money when stacked against the high cost of including a living wage for contractors.

That being said, Barrett has not lost sight of long-term goals.

“Right now, considering the complex political landscape and restrictions from the state, I think it’s reasonable to do an incremental step to get a living wage for employees now, and then go back and look at the contractors.”

Most recently, Barrett has encouraged staff to look into what areas like Durham and Asheville are doing to address the issue. Unfortunately, many of the barriers to getting a living wage for contractors have trickled down from the state.

Back in 2013, Durham County was required by the state’s new “regulatory reform” law to rescind county policies requiring government-supported contractors to show proof that they were paying employees a “living wage.”

For those unfamiliar with the “regulatory reform” law, the policy bans cities and counties from requiring their contractors to pay a living wage. In addition, the law prohibits cities and counties from providing compulsory paid sick leave to their employees.

In response to the political setback, The Durham People’s Alliance has considered establishing a voluntary living wage certification program that would provide formal recognition of businesses that pay a living wage.

This initiative is based upon Asheville’s highly successful ‘Just Economics’ Living Wage Certification Program, which is currently the largest living wage certification program in the United States.

‘Just Economics’ has certified a growing number of over 300 businesses. Those who become certified receive benefits including advertising and publicity in local media outlets and a “Living Wage Certified” emblem to display at their place of business.

Clearly, county officials and advocates have had to turn to more creative ways of combating the state-imposed living wage restrictions. What do you think the school board and other public entities should do to create an inclusive living wage policy that includes contracted workers? What about for private business? Would a 'Just Economics' program work in Orange County?









Thanks for pushing this forward.


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