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Buffalo approves living wage increase for city workers, vendors

Mike Desmond

Some City of Buffalo workers and some workers from around 20 companies doing business with the city will get raises next year. The Common Council on Tuesday approved increases in what is known as the living wage.

It's not clear how many workers are involved and it won't be until next year, but if they had received the increase this year, the base pay would be $15.38 per hour.

This is the latest product of the city's Living Wage Commission, which monitors the costs of living here. This year it is monitoring the rapidly rising rents in Buffalo.

"It's also going to be less confusing," said Living Wage Commission lawyer Sam Magavern about the new plan.

"Currently, it's a split rate, depending on whether the employer provides health care or not. Now, it's just going to be one single rate, which is going to be easier for employers and employees to keep track of. But the new rate is going to be set to 150% of the federal poverty line for a family of three. And the goal is to make it a little more adequate for a family's sustaining wage in Buffalo."

Council Majority Leader David Rivera said the increase is needed.

"Next year, we will appropriate money to make sure that those people that do business with the City of Buffalo and meet the criteria get paid a living wage, that's sustainable to sustain their families," Rivera said.

Commission Chair Rev. Merle Showers said it's more than a dollars-and-cents issue.

"It's a moral issue, because obviously you can't expect workers to live on poverty wages and expect them to do a good job for the City of Buffalo," Showers said. "We expect them to have a living wage. That's the point of the legislation clear back in 1999. It was so that people didn't have to go to a food pantry if they're working 40 hours a week for the City of Buffalo."

The living wage issue has been discussed in City Hall for years. Both New York State and governments across the country are signing on to the living wage concept, that is, people should be paid enough to have decent lives for themselves and their families. The goal is to lift them out of poverty, with government wages sometimes in that category.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.