Twenty Four Questions About a Living Wage in Boulder

The Self Sufficiency 2016 campaign hosted by the League of Women Voters of Boulder County has been pushing for a living wage in Boulder, and City Council talked about it last week.  Employees of the University of Colorado have also been pushing for a $15 minimum wage. Unfortunately CRS 8-6-101 prohibits a city or county from setting a minimum wage, so we can’t simply pass a local minimum wage like Seattle, WA and Los Angeles, CA. Our state statue includes some kind of Orwellian justification for the prohibition.  It says that the welfare of Colorado depends on workers having adequate wages, and therefore cities and counties shall not be allowed to regulate wages.  Uh, what?  Here’s the code:

8-6-101. Legislative declaration – minimum wage of workers – matter of statewide concern – prohibition on local minimum wage enactments.

(1) The welfare of the state of Colorado demands that workers be protected from conditions of labor that have a pernicious effect on their health and morals, and it is therefore declared, in the exercise of the police and sovereign power of the state of Colorado, that inadequate wages and unsanitary conditions of labor exert such pernicious effect.

(2) The general assembly hereby finds and determines that issues related to the wages of workers in Colorado have important statewide ramifications for the labor force in this state. The general assembly, therefore, declares that the minimum wages of workers in this state are a matter of statewide concern.

(3)(a) No unit of local government, whether by acting through its governing body or an initiative, a referendum, or any other process, shall enact any jurisdiction-wide laws with respect to minimum wages; except that a unit of local government may set minimum wages paid to its own employees.

So a city wide living wage is off the table for the moment, though a bill repealing CRS 8-6-101 has been introduced, and a ballot measure is planned for the fall that would do the same.

In lieu of a living wage for everyone, for the moment folks are requesting that the City of Boulder at least pay all city employees a living wage.  Unfortunately, this isn’t as straightforward as it might seem, because the City contracts with other companies for a bunch of services, including relatively low-wage janitorial and landscaping jobs.  Those jobs in particular used to be in-house city staff positions, before cost cutting measures around 2003 when the economy wasn’t doing so great, resulted in the positions being contracted out.

So, there’s a question as to where to draw the line between “real” city employees, and the jobs being contracted out. If we’re going to require a living wage, to whom does that requirement apply?  Of course, those contractors have subcontractors… and sometimes they have sub-subcontractors, and they have contracts with other customers, and maybe the same workers work on many different customer sites. How far should the wage requirements propagate through this network of corporate relationships?

It sounds simplest to just bring those jobs back in-house, but somehow we’ll have to transition away from the current contract arrangement, and what should we do in the meantime?  What would happen to the people who are doing these jobs now, under contract? Would they as individuals be likely to land the higher paying city jobs with benefits? Is that what we care about? Or is our concern structural and systemic?

After discussing it last Tuesday, Council decided to have the city start renegotiating contracts with the companies that provide janitorial and landscaping services to the city, to ensure that workers get paid at least the “self sufficiency wage” of $15.67/hr, which is reportedly enough for someone to live here, without having to depend on public assistance (SNAP, Medicaid, etc.).

Everybody on Council sounded like they were on board with making sure city employees get paid a living wage, but Bob and Matt voted against the proposal to try and renegotiate the existing contracts, preferring to instead work on bringing the jobs back in house.

Afterward, Bob (formerly a corporate lawyer) sent a huge list of questions (copied below) to staff on the City Council Hotline email list, highlighting many of the ways that this contract renegotiation could end up being complicated.

The complexity of this arrangement makes me wonder what the process was like to outsource the jobs more than a decade ago.  I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant, but was it as simple as “We’ve got to make some budget cuts, so we’re letting y’all go.” before signing contracts with some cleaning and landscaping companies?  Is it easier to outsource than to insource jobs?  How would that be different if we had stronger unions?

It also makes me wonder if might get the state-wide law changed before we can actually go through the process of getting these contracts changed.  It seems like there’s going to be a lot of interesting lefty stuff on the ballot this year.  This local minimum wage flexibility for one. Universal health care in Colorado for another. Oh right, and maybe a democratic socialist for president. Interesting times, USA.

Questions from Bob Yates:

Contracted Janitorial and Landscaping Services:

  1. How many people are engaged in providing these services?
  2. How many are full-time and part-time?  What number of full time equivalents (FTEs) are engaged in providing these services?  How many are seasonal?
  3. What is the range of compensation and median hourly wage for each type of service?
  4. How many contractors provide these services?  What are the sizes and terms of the respective contracts?  Are all of the contracts terminable by the City without cause and without penalty?  Are there other considerations if the City were to terminate contracts early or to decide not to renew them?
  5. Are the people who provide the services W-2 employees of the respective contractors, or are those people independent contractors themselves?  Do the contractors use subcontracting companies?  If the people who provide services are independent contractors or employees of subcontractors, will they be subject to a minimum wage requirement?  If so, will a minimum wage requirement also apply to the contractor’s other subcontractors, vendors, and suppliers?
  6. To the extent that the people who provide services are employees of the respective contractors, do the contractors provide such employees benefits, such as health insurance and vacation and sick leave?  If so, how do these benefits compare to those provided by the City to its similarly-situated employees?
  7. Would any minimum wage requirement apply only to those employees of the contractor who work within the Boulder city limits, or would it also apply to other employees of the contractor who provide support or parallel services in other jurisdictions (for example, the contractor’s administrative support located outside of Boulder, or the contractor’s other crews who work exclusively outside of Boulder)?
  8. To what extent do people on the contractors’ Boulder city crews also work for other cities?  To what extent do people on the contractors’ Boulder city crews work for non-governmental customers?  Would Boulder require the contractors to pay such employees the Boulder wage on days when the crews work outside of Boulder or for private customers?  Would doing so comply with the state’s minimum wage restrictions?
  9. What percentage of the employees of such contractors live outside of Boulder or Boulder County?
  10. What portion of landscaping or janitorial services are provided by non-profit entities, like the Bridge House Ready to Work program?  How would these be treated?  If included in a increased wage requirement, how would these organizations be affected?
  11. Would contractors which provide landscaping services and non-landscaping services (like Bridge House’s culinary services) be required to pay the minimum wage for all employees, or only the landscaping employees?  In either event, how would this affect their non-landscaping services?
  12. Is each contractor willing to raise the wages of its employees and independent contractors to the level requested by Boulder?  If not, why not?
  13. With respect to landscaping contracts specifically, are some of them embedded as subcontracts in broader contracts for other services provided to the City (for example, construction or road work)?  If so, will the minimum wage requirements be applied to those related contracts and subcontracts?
  14. What will be the incremental cost to Boulder to require contractors to raise their minimum wage?
  15. How will this incremental cost be covered, including through increased taxes, application of general fund reserves, or reduced services in these or other areas?
  16. Will there be adverse consequences suffered by increasing wages to employees of the City’s contractors (including, for examples, the “cliff effect” of disqualifying people from certain social services)?
  17. In the event of termination or non-renewal by the City, do any of the respective contracts require the City to employ affected employees of the contractor?  Do any of the contracts prohibit the City from hiring the contractor’s employees?
  18. What would be the annual cost to the City of bringing in house all of the currently-contracted janitorial services (including increased wages, benefits, and supervisory expenses, offset by any contracting savings)?  Are there non-economic advantages or disadvantages to either the City or the affected employees?
  19. Is it feasible or advisable for the City to bring in house some or all of the currently-contracted landscaping service?  If so, what would be the annual cost to the City (including increased wages, benefits, and supervisory expenses, offset by any contracting savings)?  Are there non-economic advantages or disadvantages to either the City or the affected employees?

Other Contracted Services

  1. In addition to janitorial and landscaping services, for what other services does the City contract?
  2. Is it feasible, possible, or advisable to require such other contractors to pay their employees or independent contractors a minimum wage?
  3. If so, address questions 1 through 19 above for each type of service.

Seasonal Employees

  1. What percentage of the City’s seasonal employees are under 18?  What percentage of the City’s seasonal employees are the primary or secondary wage-earner in their household?
  2. For other cities which have undertaken living wage efforts for city employees, is there an exception for seasonal or youth employees?
  3. What will be the incremental cost to Boulder to increase the minimum wage of seasonal employees?
  4. How will this incremental cost be covered, including through increased taxes, application of general fund reserves, or reduced services in these or other areas?
  5. Assuming no increase in the funding for the respective programs that employ seasonal employees, would an increase in minimum wage require the city to decrease the number of seasonal employees?  If so, by how many and in which areas?

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Zane Selvans

A former space explorer, now marooned on a beautiful, dying world.

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