Local Officials, Labor Leaders Rally Against Limiting ‘Living Wage’ Ordinances

Mike Wilder, with Wisconsin Jobs Now
Mike Wilder, with Wisconsin Jobs Now, testifies against a state plan to prohibit state or federal money being used in local contracts that exist under "living wage" rules.Photo: Shawn Johnson / WPR News

Labor activists and local government leaders from Madison and Milwaukee turned out in force at the Capitol yesterday to speak against a plan to limit local “living wage” ordinances.

The plan would ban county or city ordinances that set a minimum wage for contractor work being done with state or federal dollars. It’s aimed specifically at Milwaukee County, where the County Board just passed a measure to require all contractors pay $11.32 an hour.

Milwaukee resident Nicole Collazo-Santiago told lawmakers her county could handle its own budget, noting that other cities and counties had managed local wage ordinances just fine.

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“I mean you didn’t have a problem when Dane County passed it, so then why, all of a sudden, because Milwaukee County passes it, there’s an issue?”, Collazo-Santiago said.

Mike Wilder, with the labor group group Wisconsin Jobs Now, said a living wage would help lift up people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

“Many of them work two, three jobs just to make their basic ends meet,” Wilder said. “Many of them would have been here today, but they cannot take off work in this amount of time to hear something so important that would impact their lives very deeply.”

Republican Assembly sponsor Chris Kapenga from the city of Delafield in Waukesha County said he started working on this plan as soon as he heard about the Milwaukee County living wage ordinance. Kapenga belives minimum wages end up hurting the economy. He stressed that his bill would not ban living wage ordinances.

“We’re saying that if you’re going to do it, you’re going to have to fund it with the local tax base,” Kapenga said.

But Madison and Milwaukee government leaders testified that once state and federal tax money flows to cities and counties, it should be up to them to decide how to use it.

Lawmakers are moving fast on this plan. It was introduced just two days ago and is scheduled for a committee vote later today. That might not matter. Governor Scott Walker told reporters it’s not on his agenda.