The following post was submitted to NC Policy Watch by Vicki Meath, Executive Director of the group Just Economics in Asheville.
Another attack on workers and local governments
By Vicki Meath
Among the harmful and destructive bills passed during the waning hours of 2013 legislative session was HB 74 (“The Regulatory Reform Act of 2013”) . The bill now awaits the Governor’s review.
In this bill affecting rules in a variety of areas (including significant rollbacks of environmental protections) lawmakers included an anti-living wage, anti-local government, anti-worker provision. Section 5 eliminates the rights of cities and counties to enact living wage policy or paid sick day requirements for contract workers.
This provision will not accomplish any useful purpose and will actually harm both workers and local governments. Cities and counties are already required to use the lowest acceptable bid on city or county contracts. Lowest acceptable bid requirements are useful in that they virtually eliminate conflict of interest and potential unjust favoritism in bidding; however contractors often have to reduce their non-fixed costs in order to compete for public contracts. This can often mean cutting labor costs.
Living wage policies help contractors level the playing field so that they can compete for city and county contracts on the basis of the quality of their work instead of a race to the bottom in terms of worker wages and benefits. Living wage policies helps workers by providing a more just wage floor that promotes economic self-sufficiency. Living wages help our local economy because when more money is placed in the hands of low-wage workers, that money gets put right back in the local economy. The living wage provision in HB 74 was not meant to help anyone, but rather to take away some autonomy and decision making power of our local governments.
In North Carolina, the anti-living wage provision will undo years of work in the City of Durham, Durham County, and the City of Asheville. In Asheville, Just Economics  has been advocating for the implementation of living wage requirements for contractors since 2007 when the City passed a living wage policy for its workers. In response to the Asheville City Council’s questions about the impact of living wage policy for contractors on the city budget, Just Economics worked with city staff to phase in the policy and study the impacts during each phase.
The three-year phase in approach was completed on June 25th, 2013 when the Asheville City Council voted 7-0 to enact a living wage policy on all City contracts above $30,000. The City carefully considered the data collected, contractors and businesses showed support for the policy, and no group voiced opposition. The Council made an informed choice about what is best for the local community. So the question is: Who is this policy meant to help? Why do state legislators feel the need to remove local issues from the hands of local leaders when local community members are not voicing any concerns, but rather support?
As the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Not only was living wage policy “not broke”, it was working and supported and voted in by the Council that takes financial responsibility for implementing it. As far as I know, no one in the local community was asking to “fix it.”