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Nonprofits get waiver from living-wage law

Nonprofits get waiver from living-wage law

April 9, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

Longtime allies became foes Tuesday when nonprofit agencies took on living-wage supporters, asking county supervisors to exempt their agencies from a wage policy for which they had once lobbied.
The board heeded their wish, unanimously voting to give nonprofits a break from the county’s living-wage ordinance. The ordinance was passed to help employees afford the region’s high cost of living.
But supervisors also ordered the issue to return in two years, to see if it’s more economically doable then.
Only Supervisor Tony Campos had harsh words for nonprofits Tuesday, saying it offended him that none had proffered solutions, only threatened to take away services from the county’s most needy.
Campos changed his no vote when it became clear he was in the minority.
Supervisors approved the living-wage law in December 2001. While it went into effect immediately for private contractors, nonprofits were given a temporary stay due to the faltering economy and dwindling funds.
The ordinance requires that contractors pay employees a minimum of $11 an hour, or $12 an hour for those who don’t receive benefits. Close to half of community organizations mostly larger ones with sizable government funding have already voluntarily complied with the ordinance. Thirty-three nonprofits remain.
Nonprofit directors filled the supervisors chamber Tuesday and told the board they’d be forced to cut client services as well as benefits for staff if forced to comply with the law without additional funding.
“I don’t see how, in good conscience, this makes any sense,” said Karen Delaney, executive director of the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County. “It’s like writing a check to someone you know is going to bounce.”
But members of the Coalition for a Living Wage, which shepherded the ordinance to passage, all but called nonprofit leaders hypocritical for denying adequate pay to their workers.
Many of the directors protesting the ordinance make far more than the employees it affects, coalition members noted.
“I think there is something fundamentally wrong when the nonprofits, which are here to alleviate poverty, do so by perpetuating poverty among their own workers,” said Amy Newell, coalition member.
Agency directors said they support good pay for their workers but don’t have the finances to do so.
Beth Love, executive director of the Human Care Alliance, a coalition of area nonprofits, asked supervisors to approve wage goals rather than a law that would cripple small agencies. The city of Santa Cruz did this recently.
Love noted that nearly half the cities and counties nationwide with living-wage ordinances exempt nonprofits entirely from the law. Those include Los Angeles, Ventura and Oxnard counties, she said.
“This is a problem that is far bigger than our county,” Love said. “This is a fundamental flaw in our society in that (nonprofit employees) are not valued.”
Supervisors Jeff Almquist and Mardi Wormhoudt lamented the new-found adversarial relationship between living-wage supporters and the nonprofit community, calling it a “sad day” and likening the discord to a family feud.
Almquist said it would be unfair to make nonprofits do something the county regularly protests at the state level implementing unfunded mandates.
Wormhoudt said it was critical the county keep the issue alive and continue to hold nonprofit compliance a goal.
“The worst thing we can do today is to shut the door on this issue,” she said. “If we do, I believe we will create rifts in the community that will not heal.”
Campos accused some nonprofits of being “top heavy” and providing services that are repeated by agencies throughout the county.
After the meeting, he said nonprofits have to start acting more like the private sector.
“My main goal was to send a message to the nonprofits and to tell them the well is dry. For the last three or four years I’ve been telling them they need to get a business plan in place,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, business as usual needs to change.”
Contact Jeanene Harlick at jharlick (at)


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