Living wage ordinance passes in Bozeman 

Bozeman has become the second city in Montana to adopt a living wage ordinance after the city commissioners passed the law last week by a 3-2 vote. The law stipulates that employees must be paid a living wage of $8.50 an hour with health benefits, or $9.50 without for city employees and employees of companies that receive money from Bozeman’s revolving loan fund that is meant to attract business to the town.

Like the ordinance passed in Missoula earlier this year, the law does not apply to companies that contract with the city. The law also exempts temporary and part-time employees.

“The city can afford this,” says Bozeman City Manager Clark Johnson. “It’s very workable for us.” Opposition to the ordinance came largely from the city’s business community. The Gallatin County Development Corporation, the group that administers the revolving loan fund, was particularly concerned. “They felt it would be a detriment to their ability to attract companies,” says Commissioner Jarvis Brown, who voted against the measure. Brown was concerned about vague wording that might automatically raise the wage in accordance with the consumer price index. He also has concerns about the effectiveness of living wage laws in general.

“I think it’s not a very efficient way of helping underprivileged people,” Brown says. “I think it’s very expensive and doesn’t help many people in the short run.”

When the living wage law takes effect July 1, 2002, it will affect about 60 city employees, Johnson says. The $8.50 wage is up only 3.4 percent from the city’s bottom wage, though, so the change will not be drastic.

Montana People’s Action (MPA), a Missoula-based social and economic justice advocacy group, had originally sought a provision that applied to city contractors and paid $9.90 per hour with benefits and $11.15 without. While some in the group are pleased with the law, others left the commissioners’ meeting disappointed. Bozeman MPA member Kelly Pollington told the Bozeman Chronicle that the final law was “not worth much.”

“Actually we’re very happy with the ordinance. It’s a very good first step,” says one Missoula MPA staff member who requested anonymity. (MPA’s staff prefer to have their members speak to the press.) Back in Bozeman, Jarvis Brown’s request for a review of the law in two years was granted. Despite his reservations about the law, Brown was prepared to vote for it until the confusion arose over the consumer price index.

“I’m willing to wait and see,” Brown says. “In my mind it’s still kind of a trial basis to see what kind of effects it has.”

Montana People’s Action, meanwhile, plans to stage their next living wage campaign in Billings.

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