JERSEY CITY - Workers employed in the private security industry will hold two rallies in downtown Jersey City this evening and hope to address tonight's City Council meeting regarding a proposed living wage ordinance under consideration. That ordinance has been withdrawn by its two co-sponsors, however, and likely won't have a public hearing until June.
Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union plans to hold a rally at 4:15 p.m. today at Grace Church Van Vorst at 39 Erie St. The workers then plan to march several blocks to City Hall where they will hold a second rally before attending tonight's 6 p.m. City Council meeting.
Co-sponsored by Ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop and At-large Councilman Rolando Lavarro Jr., the ordinance would require contractors in city office buildings to pay their employees a living wage. In addition, the ordinance would also require that developments that receive $1 million or more in tax abatements also pay their security and custodial personnel a living wage.
Under the Fulop-Lavarro proposal, vendors in office buildings owned or leased by the city, or which receive $1 million in economic development subsidies from the city, would be required to pay contracted workers the prevailing wages for these jobs as set by the New Jersey Department of Labor. According to the councilmen, in Hudson County the current prevailing wage for janitors is $15.70 an hour. Security officers would be paid at a level that is equal to at least 200 percent of the federal minimum wage.
Currently the federal minimum wage is $7.25, so that means security workers would be paid at least $14.50 under the ordinance. State prevailing wage standards also include health benefits and vacation time. The ordinance would further guarantee that clerical and food service workers - the lowest level of city contracted employees - receive at least $10.50 an hour.
The portion of the ordinance that pertains to developments that receive $1 million or more in city subsidies would only apply to new projects that have yet to be approved by the city.
New law faced opposition
However, at the May 7 caucus meeting, several City Council members and members of Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy's administration expressed concerns about the wording of the ordinance - a sign that the legislation was not likely to get the support it needed to be formally introduced tonight.
One concern centered around the $1 million abatement threshold.
Corporation Counsel William Matsikoudis pointed out that since an abatement is a tax break, and not a grant, measuring the specific dollar value of the abatement isn't always easily done.
Ward A Councilman Michael Sottolano asked whether the law would apply to tenants who lease space in developments that received abatements. When told that the law would apply to these tenants, he expressed doubts about enforcement.
Sottolano gave the example of an office building. If the developer of the office building received an abatement valued at $1 million or more, then leased the office space to several companies, those companies would be required to pay their security and custodial workers the living wage rates set by the city law.
"How do you plan to enforce that?" Sottolano asked at the May 7 caucus meeting.
Healy's Chief of Staff, Rosemary McFadden, expressed similar concerns about enforcement.
At-large City Councilwoman Viola Richardson thought it was problematic for workers to get accustomed to a certain hourly wage - then see their hourly pay rate drop once the abatement period ended.
At Monday's caucus meeting Fulop said he hoped to revise the language of the ordinance in time for tonight's City Council meeting. That apparently did not happen and this afternoon Fulop confirmed that he and Lavarro have withdrawn the ordinance. Fulop said he now plans to have it revised in time for the City Council meeting on May 23. If the ordinance is successfully introduced on May 23 there could be a public hearing on the measure next month. - E. Assata Wright