The rising

In a few weeks, Sacramento living-wage supporters will bring their best arguments back before the City Council. The advocates want a bump in pay to $12.84 an hour for employees on city contracts and for those whose employers have received city subsidies of more than $25,000. The rate would be lowered to $10 an hour if the companies provide health benefits.

Advocates’ basic assertion: If you’re gonna ask people to work full time, you should pay them enough to afford the basic necessities of life. Living-wage proponents come armed with dozens of studies showing that such laws are reducing poverty among working families in the nearly 100 American cities and counties (including 21 in California) that have now passed such legislation.

But a victory for this campaign is far from assured.

In late December, at the request of the city, the San Francisco firm Economic Research Associates filed a $42,000 report that claimed the ordinance would cost firms doing business with the city upwards of $8.7 million. The ERA report was roundly criticized, mostly for making unsupported cost calculations. For example, the city’s recycling center employs 86 workers. According to the report, bumping these minimum-wage employees up to $10 an hour would cost the city $3 million. Talk about fuzzy math! Behind the scenes, even city officials who opposed the living wage admitted that this and many other numbers in the report were indefensible.

Given all of the above, it was strange to see The Sacramento Bee hold up the report’s cost calculations as valid when they took a position against a boosted wage. In an editorial that read like the “con” arguments put forth by the Sacramento Chamber of Commerce, The Bee blasted the Living Wage Campaign as being “not about helping the poor, but mostly about helping unions.” Our town’s daily has opposed unions for decades, ever since the mid-1970s, when C.K. McClatchy broke the mail handlers’ union and ruined its striking employees and reporters, all of whom basically ended up unemployed or humiliated. Since then—whether it’s firefighters, cops, state workers or teachers—The Bee basically has never met a public-sector union it liked.

Certainly, it is true that unions can create unnecessary animosity between management and workers. Teachers’ unions sometimes have halted genuine efforts at school reform in poorly performing schools, all in the name of defending teachers’ contracts. But make no mistake: Unions have had mostly positive effects on working America. The bumper sticker that reads “The Labor Movement—The Folks Who Brought You the Weekend” is true to its claim.

Ultimately, we take The Bee’s opposition to the living-wage ordinance with a grain of salt, considering the source. On March 4, we hope the City Council will, too. For our part, we prefer seeing this thing from the point of view of one of the guys down at the recycling center. This fellow—not the unions—will be the one to get a deserved bump in his paycheck, a raise that’ll help him and his family afford the basics.

That’s real. That’s fair. That’s worth supporting.