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Durham Passes Livable Wage Ordinance

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DURHAM — Starting next month, anyone who does business with the City of Durham will have to pay workers a specific wage level of at least $7.55 an hour.

It's called the "Livable Wage Ordinance". The city council passed it Wednesday night. The measure is already drawing both strong support and criticism.

It's the kind of idea that generates strong opinion from either side of the fence. One of the council members who supports the plan freely admits she's a member of the working poor, and that has given her firsthand knowledge of why something like this is needed.

"We still have people who are not over the minimum wage," explains council member Brenda Burnette, "and again, mothers with children, single parents, people who don't have a lot of skills, are sometimes, they are right at the bottom, making those low wages, and I think this will help them."

Burnette believes Durham's new livable wage ordinance will be imitated by other cities in the state. It will cover contract services including but not restricted to construction, cleaning, transportation, garbage, and landscaping.

Dr. James Smith of UNC's business school says the idea may make sense politically, but there's no way it does economically.

"Telling somebody he has to pay every single employee $7.50 an hour is going to result in people saying, why do I need to do business with the City of Durham with this ridiculous rule?" Smith says. "And they'll wind up with fewer suppliers and less qualified suppliers, It's just crazy."

Some of those suppliers say they're not sure if they'll turn away the city's business, but it could definitely impact the bids they submit for projects, in the upward direction.

Odds are those higher costs will get passed on to Durham taxpayers. In defense of the idea, it's worth noting the city of Baltimore has employed a similar plan, with some encouraging results.


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