A proposed minimum wage hike for Oberlin city workers is being delayed until January or February when new city manager Rob Hillard can get up to speed on it.
City council members discussed the proposal in a work session with residents last Monday. Under the proposal by councilwoman Sharon Soucy, the wage would rise to $12.50 per hour for workers 18 and over. Workers under 18 would receive 10.10 per hour.
The legal wage is $8.10 per hour in Ohio and $7.25 per hour federally.
Oberlin has about 110 full-time municipal workers. Most earn more than the minimum wage.
A hike would primarily affect about 35 part-time municipal workers, many of whom work seasonally. It would cost $43,768 annually in a city with a $9.4 million budget this year.
Soucy said the proposal is a local response to rising income inequality nationally. The richest one percent of Americans controlled 42 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2012, according to a May study by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California at Berkley. The richest 0.1 percent controlled 22 percent of the wealth.
While saying she hoped a hike for public employees might inspire private employers to do the same for their workers, Soucy stressed nothing in the proposal obligates private employers to do so.
Soucy said there was a big difference between asking multi-billion dollar corporations like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart to pay more than the minimum and asking local businesses to comply.
“Our downtown businesses are our lifeblood and I have tremendous respect for how hard those business owners work,” she said. “I understand that they pay their workers what they can afford to pay them.”
Councilwoman Sharon Pearson said she supports raising the minimum “in theory” but said the timing was wrong. She said two vacant positions should be filled first.
Pearson also said workers who aren’t getting a raise may resent the hikes. “That’s a concern of mine as to whether it’s the right time to put that on the shoulders of a new city manager who’s already coming into the Oberlin community having to face a lot of issues,” she said.
Council president Ron Rimbert said $10.10 per hour might be a more reasonable hike and questioned whether an across-the-board increase might reward undeserving workers. He said supervisors should have more discretion over who gets raises.
Council vice president Linda Slocum said she was ambivalent about teenagers receiving the same wage as adults. However, David Whitworth, a recreation department supervisor, said many of the students he oversees work with young children. He said the students work hard and deserve a raise.
“Don’t just think of how old they are,” he said, “because they take on a very responsible job. It’s an adult job and they do a good job at it.”
Several residents also expressed support. Martin Buck said paying more would help attract and retain good workers.
“Our workers are second to none in the state,” he said. “It’s just a moral issue. It’s the right thing to do.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.