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Burlington City Council Reviewing Livable Wage Ordinance

It's an ongoing issue: minimum wage doesn't match the cost of living.
BURLINGTON, Vt. - It's an ongoing issue: minimum wage doesn't match the cost of living.

The Livable Wage Ordinance should have, in part, helped alleviate that for city workers. The wage is $13.94 per hour if the employer provides health insurance, and $17.71 if there is no health insurance provided.

But many who are required to pay their workers the livable wage are not. And it's not enforced.

That is about to change. Councilor Max Tracy, a Progressive who represents Ward 2, says they plan to review the ordinance--and enforce it.

"That could mean having access to payroll records to see that they actually are paying the livable wage...(or) having a worker's rights hotline where a worker will be able to call and say 'hey, I'm not actually getting the livable wage,'" he explained.

The ordinance applies to those who work for the city or are contracted by the city. That could be a towing company hired by the city, a bank that the city uses, or restaurants at Burlington International Airport.

The Skinny Pancake, known for its location on the corner of Lake and College streets, also has a restaurant in the airport. This would mean they have to pay their workers the livable wage; but they applied for and were granted an exemption.

The owner, Benji Adler, explained why: "It was entirely unprecedented for a restaurant to be subject to the LWO. Simply put, The Skinny Pancake was awarded an exemption to the Liveable Wage Ordinance because clearly demonstrated in our application for exemption that it was unfeasible & unsustainable for us to pay the LWO to our employees at the airport. The Board of Finance agreed with our assessment and approved the exemption unanimously across all party lines."

In addition, Adler says the average hourly wage of Skinny Pancake workers is $12.82. That's more than four dollars higher than the Vermont minimum wage of $8.60, but less than the $17.71 of the Burlington livable wage. It's just about on par with the Vermont state livable wage, which is $12.48.

But lack of funds is not the only reason the council will approve exemption: T.D. Bank is also exempt.

Councilor Tracy says that's the reason he wants to get rid of the exemption process--it appears to be unfair even if it is not.

"I understand why it was included before, but I don't support it moving forward," he said of the exemption process.

He also said he doesn't want it to appear that certain businesses are receiving special treatment because they know a politician.

Janice Santiago works in Burlington every day helping people finds jobs and housing. She sees firsthand that the numbers just don't add up.

"We shouldn't have to, in this day and age, in this country or anywhere, have to work more than one job to really make our ends meet."

She, and many other Burlington workers, will be waiting impatiently for changes to the ordinance to be made.


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