Municipal contractors must pay their employees at least $15 an hour within two years, according to rules passed Thursday by the New Orleans City Council, part of several recent efforts to ease financial strain on public servants .
The rules would see the city’s current base rate of $11.19 per hour increase to $13.25 per hour by 2022 and $15 by 2023. Anyone not receiving the rate current base would see his salary increased to that level by December.
After 2023, increases would take place every year to keep up with inflation. The measures would apply to contract workers who manage projects worth at least $25,000 and those who work for city beneficiaries who receive at least $100,000 in public funds.
City employees involved in projects or contracts where city money is distributed would also be eligible.
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The unanimity vote is one of several measures planned by the council to impose wage increases on public sector employees. The council also voted to direct the city’s chief executive, Gilbert Montano, to study the costs of raising wages for workers directly employed by the city.
A separate order introduced Thursday would task public service workers with a similar study. This change will be reviewed by the board at a future meeting.
A $15 hourly wage “is the minimum amount necessary to keep an individual’s food on the table, keep their lights on, and keep a roof over their head,” council member Jared Brossett said. “Raising the minimum wage is a concrete step the city can and should take to improve the living conditions of all of our residents.”
These measures were welcomed by workers who said they were tired of being underpaid and undervalued.
“We want to be recognized as worthy of a living wage along with everyone else,” said Aaron Mischler, president of the New Orleans Firefighters Association. Others said they had to work two or three jobs to make ends meet on their current municipal salaries, and that the city’s low wages drove workers to other towns and parishes.
The actions for workers come amid growing demands from contract workers and other public employees for better pay, better equipment and more respect at work. The city’s sanitation workers went on strike last year over these issues; Earlier this week, several Department of Public Works employees walked off the job and demanded to speak to supervisors about payroll and other issues.
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Low-wage private sector workers have also gone on strike in an attempt to secure higher wages, as state laws do not establish a minimum wage for private sector workers. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
Past forced wage increases from council or the mayor’s administration set base pay at $10.55 an hour for city contractors and $10.10 for direct workers, with adjustments subsequent to inflation. Mayor LaToya Cantrell also issued general salary increases of 10% upon taking office.
But to pay basic living expenses in New Orleans today, an average worker would need $15.01 an hour, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study that Brossett cited. The city’s current base wage rate is $11.21 per hour.
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The Brossett order introduced Thursday for public workers would require public service personnel to study raising pay to $15 an hour for classified employees. If the full council approves this decision, the study should be delivered by September 1.
The petition filed by Helena Moreno and approved Thursday, meanwhile, asks Montano, the CAO, to provide more information on the costs of these wage increases and how the city would fund them by mid- august.