Irvine Council to Consider Repealing Living Wage Law

Irvine’s City Council will soon consider repealing the city’s living wage law, a move the council’s Republican majority touts as a money saver but critics say places them on the wrong side of an historic nationwide debate on income inequality.

The living wage ordinance, passed in 2007 when Democrats held the council majority, requires outside city contractors with contracts valued at $100,000 or more  to at least match the lowest hourly rate paid to city employees. That equates to $10.82 for employees with benefits and $13.34 for employees without benefits.

The law requires the Irvine’s contractors to not only pay the wage to employees working on their city contracts, but also to any worker it employs in Orange County.

The Council’s Republicans say that drives up contract costs and places an unfair burden on Irvine’s taxpayers to subsidize employees in other cities.

“That is stealing from our taxpayers,” said Councilwoman Christina Shea. “It’s completely wrong.”

The Republican council members said the issue caught their attention when a contractor cited the law as the reason why it retracted its bid to perform custodial services. The vote was 3-1 to consider repealing the ordinance at the May 26 council meeting, with Democratic Councilwoman Beth Krom the only no vote and Councilwoman Lynn Schott absent.

Krom — the only Democrat left on council after Republicans unseated the Democratic majority in 2012 — accused the Republicans  of being more interested intearing down the progressive policies that Democrats implemented than saving money for taxpayers.

Krom also said she doesn’t want the city to hire contractors who don’t pay decent wages to their employees, and she pointed out that the state’s minimum wage is steadily increasing and would likely soon eclipse the city’s living wage.

“To say that’s where we really need to cut, that’s what we need to stop, that’s what’s bringing down our city? That’s not what’s bringing down our city,” Krom said.

According to city staff, 15 city contracts totaling $18.4 million fall under the living wage ordinance.

A handful of public speakers were also divided on the issue.

Allan Bartlett, a city finance commissioner and an active member of the local Republican party, said the city’s living wage ordinance contradicted the country’s free market principles. It also drives up contract costs and could prevent companies from hiring high school kids looking for work during summer break, he said.

Bartlett said the city should “at the very least” repeal the requirement for contractors to pay all employees countywide a living wage.

“I mean this is capitalism. We live under a capitalist system,” Bartlett said.

Tim Steed, internal organizer with the Orange County Employees Association, which represents tens of thousands of public employees at the county and many cities, including Irvine, cited the raging national debate over income inequality and said Irvine has been a leader in holding the line on fair compensation.

“Are you gonna sit here and say you were on the wrong side of what will be one of the most important issues of the 21st century?” Steed asked the council.

Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway argued that the city’s living wage ordinance is falsely labeled because the minimum wages aren’t enough for a family to live comfortably in the city. He said government shouldn’t be interfering with a transaction between consenting individuals and that the city’s voters spoke when they elected a conservative majority.

“The living wage is not a living wage at all. It’s called a feel good wage,” Lalloway said. “We’re unnaturally inflating the amount we’re paying for services in the city. I don’t know how that’s consistent with our fiduciary responsibility.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at and follow him on Twitter: @adamelmahrek

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  • kburgoyne

    “We’re unnaturally inflating the amount we’re paying for services in the city: — The same could be said of all those nasty big government regulations against slave labor. Clearly laws against slave labor are nothing more than an unnatural inflation of what a good capitalist must pay for labor — for no other reason than so soft hearted people can “feel good” about there not being slaves. There is nothing more in line with a strong unbridled capitalistic system than people competing to most efficiently produce and sell slave inventory.

  • Trudy White

    Republicans are two faced lying dogs. They bleat about how precious unborn lives are, but once if is born, they could care less, until those precious little babies are old enough to go to war and become cannon fodder for their wars based on lies. They are ddoing this for their big money business owners who pay them off under the table, so that you and I, the saps who actually PAY taxes, get to subsidize their businesses and profits with food stamps, housing vouchers and other aid.

    • True Trudy. there was a retired general by the name of Smedley Butler who wrote a book titled “War is a Racket” he expresses how he was nothing but a hired thug for American Corporations all over the world.
      really enlightened reading with facts as well as theories.

  • Paul Lucas

    why is it that the Reps always go after the workers or the poor. If you want to cut waste costs, etc then start at the top. Going after those at the bottom of the totem pole just makes you guys look like the punks you are at your core.

    • Totally agree Paul. If they want to save some money, go after damages for the great park fiasco and the overpaid clown that made huge profits from it.

  • kburgoyne

    “I mean this is capitalism. We live under a capitalist system,” — We live in a SOCIETY. That society is organized politically into a democratic republic. Capitalism is nothing more than an commerce system we have chosen to serve our society. Capitalism is SUBSERVIENT to our society. Our society is NOT subservient to capitalism. Capitalism is NOT the society itself. We do not “LIVE” in capitalism. If one is going to commit to “living” in capitalism, then we might as well, at the same time, eliminate all religions that are not based on the worship of gold since religions not based on the worship of gold have no place in a society subservient to capitalism.

  • Philmore

    Did anyone bother to request or produce a study of which and how many positions would be affected by the proposal? Without some context or basis, it seems like another political football (or rugby !) game. Not to worry, though, posturing over problem-solving is becoming the rule rather than the exception in OC.

  • Roger Butow

    Earth to Jeffie: Those making less than $25/hour or so, after taxes, can’t afford to live in comfy Irvine anyway, so that’s a specious and basically asinine allegation. On the other hand, considering what you and the rest of the City officials have done to yourselves these past 10 years, it’s a wonder anyone wants to live there. Keep opening up new investigations of each other & your advisors over the same shameful period, you’re city’s the punchline to a joke. You’re already the laughing stock of the OC, increasingly a catch-up game to Vernon & Bell state-wide, what’s next, trying to go national for the scandal trifecta?

    • Trudy White

      Well said.