On July 9, 2019, the City of Buffalo Common Council voted unanimously to amend the City’s Living Wage Ordinance, as recommended by the City’s Living Wage Commission. The new law was sponsored by Councilmembers David Rivera and Joel Feroleto.
Starting on July 1, 2020, the living wage will be based on 150 percent of the federal poverty guideline for a family of three. That exact rate will not be available until January 2020, but it will definitely mean a raise for employees covered by the law. The 2019 living wage rate is $12.04 per hour for employees who receive health insurance from their employer, and $13.52 for those who do not. If the 2019 rate had been set under the new formula (which uses a single rate instead of two), it would have been $15.38. So the July 1, 2020 rate will be roughly equivalent to $15.38 plus one year’s inflation. The federal poverty guideline is adjusted each year for inflation, so the living wage rate will change each year accordingly.
The new law does not take effect until July 1, 2020. This means that, under the old law, workers will see a moderate raise as of January 1, 2020, to $12.33 for workers who receive health insurance, and $13.88 for those who do not. That rate will be in effect until July 1, when the new law begins.
In recommending the rate increase, the Living Wage Commission noted that the current rate is far less than a family of three needs to pay its basic expenses: housing, food, transportation, medical, and childcare. New York State Department of Labor Self-Sufficiency Employment Calculator estimates that a family of three (one adult, one pre-schooler, and one school-age child) needs an income of $49,758 per year, or $23.92 per hour in a full-time, full-year job, to meet basic living expenses in Erie County.
Buffalo’s living wage ordinance, first passed in 1999, aims to “create family sustaining jobs,” “improve the level of services rendered to and for the city,” “increase consumer income while decreasing levels of poverty,” and reduce “reliance on taxpayer-funded public assistance.” It requires that the City pay its own employees a living wage and that certain employers who contract with the City also pay a living wage. Since its passage in 1999, the ordinance has helped thousands of workers. Currently, there are 28 private employers and roughly 1,000 workers covered by the law, including sanitation workers, crossing guards, emergency medical technicians, recycling sorters and drivers, parking lot attendants, and security guards.
The Partnership for the Public Good and Cornell University ILR have supported the work of the Living Wage Commission for more than a decade, providing it with leadership, volunteer staffing, office space, and more. Lou Jean Fleron, board chair of PPG and director of the Cornell ILR Buffalo Co-Lab, served as the Commission’s chair from 2003 to 2010. Sam Magavern, senior policy fellow at PPG, has long served as the Commission’s volunteer attorney. PPG interns Elizabeth Schlant and Anna Serweta provided invaluable research regarding the living wage rate. Pursuant to the ordinance, Cornell ILR designates one of the Living Wage Commissioners – a role currently served by Neighborhood Legal Services attorney Penny Selmonsky.
This news post was written by Sam Magavern, Senior Policy Fellow at PPG.