Bloomington extends “living wage” ordinance to cover city’s seasonal parks workers

On Wednesday, at it its final meeting of the year, Bloomington’s city council extended the requirements of its local “living wage” ordinance to seasonal workers who are employed by the city’s parks department.

Employers in Bloomington aren’t generally required to pay the living wage, which is set for 2020 at $13.21 an hour. Under the ordinance, it’s the city itself, its contractors and subcontractors, and beneficiaries of city grants or tax abatements that have to pay it.

The purpose of the ordinance is to “ensure that the city, city service contractors and subcontractors, and beneficiaries of a city grant, tax abatement or other forms of subsidy or assistance pay a wage sufficient for a working family to meet basic needs in housing, child care, food, clothing, household items, transportation, health care, and taxes.”

There are exceptions written into the local law. For example, for-profit companies with fewer than 10 employees aren’t covered by the ordinance.

Another exception was eliminated by the council’s action on Wednesday. The amendment approved by the council struck through the following words:

…except the seasonal employees in the parks and recreation department whose accumulated compensated hours in a calendar year is less than 0.75 FTE (and whose primary location of work is not within the main offices of those departments);

Asked after the meeting, councilmembers Allison Chopra and Isabel Piedmont-Smith told The Beacon that it’s jobs like concessions sales and grass mowing that the exception previously impacted. Piedmont-Smith sponsored the ordinance change, along with councilmember Dorothy Granger.

Councilmember Steve Volan said that Chopra and Granger’s work on the ordinance amendment made its enactment a fitting departing statement for them. It was their final council meeting for both Chopra and Granger.

It was the council’s final meeting of the year and the end of the four-year terms for all councilmembers. Chopra didn’t seek re-election to her District 3 seat. Ron Smith won November’s District 3 election. Granger lost the District 2 Democratic Party Primary to Sue Sgambelluri and Sgambelluri was unopposed won her race against Andrew Guenther in November.

Remarks at the table on Wednesday echoed a “whereas” clause about compliance by the city’s administration with the ordinance change. The city’s administration had been convinced to increase the compensation of seasonal parks and recreation workers before the city council acted to legislate the requirement. The impact of the change is expressed in the clause as a “cost”:

Whereas, over the last few years, at the urging of the Common Council and at a cost as of 2020 of about $800,000, the City of Bloomington now pays those employees a Living Wage;

On Wednesday, Councilmember Andy Ruff’s work on the original ordinance was acknowledged up and down the dais.

The ordinance first took effect on Jan. 1, 2006. It set the living wage at $10 an hour, with an automatic adjustment based on the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers, as assessed the previous June 30.

Led by Ruff, the council passed the ordinance in March 2005. Wednesday’s action to amend the living wage ordinance coincided with the end of Ruff’s two decades of service on the city council.

The living wage ordinance was a campaign issue in 2003 when Ruff was seeking reelection for the first time. Ruff’s support of the living wage ordinance was one factor that cost him the endorsement of the Herald-Times that year. The H-T wrote:

Ruff is an articulate and passionate spokesman for the community’s liberal wing. We respect his commitment but disagree with many of his views, such as his support for a living-wage ordinance, of which he is one of the main architects.

During the same election campaign, the Herald-Times reported on a mailing sent by the Republican Party in opposition to the living wage ordinance:

The mailing features the feet of a corpse with a tag labeling it the “Bloomington Economy.” To the left, it reads: “For a real fright this Halloween … Night of the Living Wage. Death for Bloomington’s Economy.” Ruff said he was extremely disappointed in the Republican Party for the mailings. “The intent is to benefit the opponents by targeting me with dramatic, gross misrepresentation of the draft proposal,” Ruff said.