While the ACLC does not endorse candidates, we do poll them to learn where they stand on issues that are important to our members. In December we began sending out questions regarding issues we care about to candidates for the Gainesville City Commission. Below are the responses that we’ve received thus far. We strongly encourage Labor Coalition members to familiarize themselves with the various candidates for office and to get involved in their campaigns. The election will take place March 14, 2017.
1) What are the biggest issues facing working people in the City of Gainesville?
Helen Warren (at-large): Our city is not much different than most cities in the world. We actually have it much better than the rural areas around Gainesville. The issue is bigger with the number of non working people who need steady income. The majority of working people are doing fine. I realize that your concern is with underpaid workers, not all workers. One problem with non-working people relates to the concentration of non-working people in neighborhoods and a culture of poverty that distracts the individual from getting the education that will provide the foundation for healthy work habits. A possible solution may be effective with an effort to change the housing patterns that continue to perpetuate poverty.
Jenn Powell (at-large): The biggest issues facing working people in the city are stagnant wages coupled with rising utility and housing costs. Also lack of efficient public transportation to those who need it.
Craig Carter (District 3): One of the biggest issues facing working people in Gainesville is the amount of quality jobs versus the number of people in the job market. In addition to our permanent residents, we attract graduation UF/SFC students to our job market so we need, not just more jobs but a bigger diversity of jobs available for those applicants.
David Arreola (District 3): Working people in Gainesville are facing several issues, depending on their unique individual situations. Many working people in Gainesville are working below a Living Wage and therefore are living paycheck to paycheck while trying to live a normal daily life. Some working people are underemployed and are working for wages far less than their qualifications deserve, resulting in economic stagnation for college degree holders and blue-collar professionals. The City Commission must work to bring more middle class jobs to Gainesville. Finally, working people are still dealing with the effects of a rigged economy on a national scale that continues to ignore rising prices and stagnant wages while profits go up, costs go down, and employee benefits are cut. The Gainesville City Commission must acknowledge these facts.
Sheryl Eddie (District 2): A. Wage disparity B. Accessible affordable and convenient transportation C. Affordable housing and quality affordable childcare
Harvey Ward (District 2): “Working people” is a broad category of citizens, with a broad set of challenges. Poverty, however, affects all of us in one way or another. By working to provide a higher institutional wage floor, greater affordable housing opportunities and better transportation access, we can help raise a high percentage of our fellow citizens out of poverty. Which raises living conditions for all of us. We also should work to invite more citizens into the process of governing by making city elections more accessible, and should work to expand fair, robust and affordable access to broadband internet service.
2) Do you support paying a living wage for all city workers? Do you believe part time, temporary, seasonal, and contracted workers should be paid a living wage? What is your plan to get us there? If you support extending the living wage to contracted workers, how will you ensure that these workers are being paid the set wage?
Helen Warren (at-large): Yes. The city has been working to provide solid benefits and competitive wages to maintain a stable work place. I believe that the city recognizes that there is a savings to any operation with reduced turnover. The current software is outdated and not capable of tracking many basic statistics. Plans are in place to upgrade the software and I am told that it will be able to track answers to many questions. I believe that this concern would be something to ask the auditor how wages could be tracked.
Jenn Powell (at-large): I support a living wage for ALL city workers. Every worker, if employed with the city in any capacity, temporary, seasonal and contracted workers should be paid a living wage. Enforcement may need to come in different forms but I feel we could collaborate with other state agencies to track enforcement and provide a way for employees to report violations.
Craig Carter (District 3): I made the motion for $12.25/hour to be the floor for all our employees. While I still believe that a “living wage” applies to those working a 40-hour work week, I do believe that higher wages will bring more productive and satisfied employees.
David Arreola (District 3): I absolutely support a Living wage for all city workers. All employees should be paid a Living Wage regardless of how many hours they work a week – not everyone is able to work a 40 hour work week for various reasons outside of their control. I’m proud of the City Commission for moving the wage floor to $12.25, but there is lots of work still to be done and we need full-time champions of this issue not commissioners that will vote for it when it is politically convenient. I plan to join fellow commissioners in working to increase this wage over a period of time that will also include cost of living adjustments. In regards to contracted workers, the City will have to establish oversight to hold contractors accountable. Contracted employees must be able to submit complaints if they have not received their Living Wage.
Sheryl Eddie (District 2): Yes. On the 15 of December 2016, the City Commission approved the living wage for all employees. Next step is ensuring that the COLA increases are implemented every year and that during budgeting each fiscal year that wage increases are a priority. We begin with requesting entities whom receive grants and/or sponsorships from the city, disclose wage structure so it can be included in the evaluation of the proposal. This needs to be included in the request for proposal and be known that companies that pay a living wage will be given preference. We implement the same program with all companies that do business with the city. I believe we must start with requiring disclosure of wages. Then, utilize the wage structure of a company as a part of the criteria that is scored. The third step is instructing the purchasing department to consider a company’s wage structure as an important scoring element when evaluating companies/agencies. This is an award based system for employers that believe in a living wage. As far as direct contract workers filling positions through a temp agency; we are in control of the wage. We require that all workers that fill positions for the city be paid at or above our standard for a living wage. That will raise cost to the city, however, the city has the ability to phase this in and to begin budgeting for the increases. Long term temps we hire directly will be paid a living wage, this has already been approved. These other temporary employees should only be utilized in emergency situations.
Harvey Ward (District 2): I absolutely support paying city workers a living wage. My basic principle on this is that I don’t want my taxes used to pay unfair wages. I am thrilled that the current city commission has set a wage floor at $12.25 for all city employees, but there remains work to be done: First, $12.25 should not be the final wage floor, but rather a stepping stone to a true living wage closer to $15/hour. Second, that wage should extend to contract employees as well. Failing to do so raises the temptation to outsource positions to create savings, which is not the intent. The increased wage requirements will need to be written into existing contracts as they present for renewal – and funding sources will need to be identified within the budget. Simultaneously, effective (but not onerous) reporting mechanisms will need to be written into the contracts.
3) What other ideas do you have to help improve wages and benefits for workers throughout our community?
Helen Warren (at-large): We need a better education system that can get people trained for higher paying positions. Self employment opportunities might provide more independence but individuals need to find ways to connect with people who will pay for their labor. For example: House cleaning can provide good salary but getting enough customer takes time to build the business. More jobs are needed attention to vocational skills.
Jenn Powell (at-large): Education is key to solving this problem. Working together with our local trade unions apprenticeship programs and our local schools, we can equip our citizens with the skills they need to find gainful employment while providing businesses with the skilled labor they need. A lot of employees are not offered benefits and when they are they are often unaffordable. Although this is not a city commission issue, I support working with the county to bring back Alachua County Choices Healthcare or a similar program. That program benefited not only employees, but also employers that struggle to provide healthcare benefits to their workers due to increased overhead expenses.
Craig Carter (District 3): Demand; the City needs to embrace more opportunities for businesses to come to our community and bring a variety of diverse job opportunities to this area.
David Arreola (District 3): Now that the Living Wage has been increased, we must turn our attention to addressing wage compression for city employees. This means following through on staff’s review of all city employee wages and establishing increases for employees that many of the employees that did not receive increases due to the Living Wage increase. Additionally, the City of Gainesville must lead the way in convincing our largest employers in Alachua County to follow suit (UF, SFC, and Publix). The City of Gainesville must also actively work to end gender based wage discrimination in our community.
Sheryl Eddie (District 2): Continuing to lead by example as the commission did passing the living wage for all employees on December 15th is one step and holding the city accountable for the COLA increases. No COLA increases means no bonuses or other compensation for management. Increases should be across the board, even in hard times, and this includes GRU management. This unfortunately may take time to implement because of contracts with management, but we need to start this program of fair wages to be implemented piece by piece as soon as possible. The city needs to launch a public relations campaign that promotes Gainesville as a city that pays fair wages AFTER we work with the Chamber and other Business of organizations that use the supposed lesser cost of living as an excuse to pay lower wages. We need to work with the chamber and educate the business community on the positive impact of fair wages. High paid employees contribute to all businesses, especially small businesses. We also need to address things such as affordable childcare and accessible transportation to employers who have a working class who face transportation issues daily. Many, especially temporary workers cannot work as much or as often as they would like for lack of affordable quality childcare. Partnering through the Child Care Executive Partnership with the Early Learning Coalition would be a start. The CCEP has never taken hold in this area because of lack of knowledge about the program and the lack of a Children’s Services Council. We now have the council so let’s get the program growing. I have an excellent relationship with the leaders in these areas and will start on day one to make CCEP and available resource for all employers.
Harvey Ward (District 2): One thing the city commission has already called for is a thorough wage review of all city employees. As a function of that study, we will have the opportunity to address wage equity across genders – which alone will likely result in wage increases for women workers. It is essential that the City of Gainesville pay women doing the same work as men the same wage as men. Also, once the city and county have followed through on moving all employees and contracted workers to something approaching a living wage, the city commission should formally urge the remaining public sector employers in the community – primarily UF and SFC – to follow suit.
4) Given the increasing role of private money in even our local elections, what measures would you support locally to prevent political bribery and secret money and create citizen-funded elections?
Helen Warren (at-large): I do not think that we could enact a policy at the local level that can resolve this issue. There are lines in the sand that do not hide one’s personal integrity. I just do not see the opportunity for one’s vote to be bought at the city or county level.
Jenn Powell (at-large): I feel this is one of the biggest issues facing our democracy today. I feel strongly that Citizens United was a giant step back for our country. I would fully support a local Anti-Corruption Act. We have already seen other cities take this step forward, including our state’s capital. We can increase the public’s confidence in our local government if we remove any appearance of any official being “bought”.
Craig Carter (District 3): As a person who cannot be influenced or bribed, I am unable to answer this question. My loyalty has always been and will continue to be with the City of Gainesville citizens. I have not been in this type of situation.
David Arreola (District 3): The overbearing influence of money in our elections has long been a concern of mine. I do not believe anybody – or entity – should be allowed to expend or contribute unlimited finances on campaign or political action committees. I would like to join with fellow commissioners in considering a version of the Anti-Corruption Act which has been passed in several US cities that focuses on transparency. Citizens deserve to know if elected officials are making favorable decisions and actions for their largest campaign contributors. Citizen-funded elections might be impossible until unlimited spending is dealt with at the federal and state level by reversing Citizens United. However, the greatest tool we have is the technology to make candidate information, contributor information, and the records of elected officials accessible to voters. On the City Commission I will publish my votes and explain why I voted this way. This I believe is an important step all elected officials should consider making.
Sheryl Eddie (District 2): First, I wish we had the power to reverse Citizen’s United, but we do not; locally, there is way too much finger pointing. There are “cliques” in the parties that try to organize and donate to candidates though not always via a PAC. The cost of a local election has grown out of control; 35k for City Commission single district. This needs to be addressed. Legally we are limited. I believe we should start by utilizing what we can control. For example, GRU sends out a newsletter and we should allow all candidates a spot for a small advertisement; same size, free for each candidate. We need to plan for the election cycle each time. Same with time at televised city commission meetings. All candidates should be able to give a three minute speech on a particular time and it should be streamed on the City’s websites as meetings are, and on social media. This will not stop the influx of dollars; however, it will give all candidates an ability to be heard by the voters who want to tune in. This type of exposure will be available to all candidates, even the less financially backed. With the limit on elections of a $250 donation, we do have some control. From personal experience $10/20/30 dollar donations are easier to get and add up fast. We could look into instituting a cap on funds as well; one year’s salary for local elections. That could help control cost before they expand even more. As the wife of a former labor union VP, I understand the critical role labor organizations play in our society, a role that has dimensioned over the years. I also understand the art of negotiation. I am a voice needed on the commission.
Harvey Ward (District 2): First I should say that I do not accept PAC or business funding for my campaign. The only dollars that fund my campaign are from living, breathing humans – more than 180 of them at this point. I am interested in citizen funded elections. As a community we might investigate initiatives such as the anti-corruption act passed in Tallahassee in 2014. A thing that we could encourage locally and immediately is broader public access to candidates and campaigns. By the time this campaign is finished, I and the other candidates for city office will have completed dozens of questionnaires like this one and will have appeared in at least half a dozen fora. Most voters will have had no access to nor awareness of any of the questionnaires or fora. Perhaps the city, in partnership with the Supervisor of Elections, local public media, and all the organizations that organize these questionnaires and fora, could make these documents and recordings of the fora widely publicly available. Otherwise I would venture to say that fewer than 500 voters – and perhaps as low as 250 – will ever read or hear anything from the questionnaires and fora. Which means candidates will continue to raise and spend tens of thousands of dollars to get their message to voters in a never-ending cycle that prevents clear discussion of issues and policies.