Originally created 08/13/97

Boston requires companies to pay `living wage'



BOSTON (AP) - Boston became the latest city Tuesday to require companies with big city contracts or subsidies to pay their employees a "living wage" - in this case, more than $2 above the hourly minimum.

"In these prosperous times for our city, our state and our nation, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that the rising tide does in fact raise all boats, not just the yachts," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in signing the ordinance.

Companies that receive city contracts or subsidies worth more than $100,000 must pay employees a minimum hourly wage of $7.49, the minimum for city workers, starting July 1. The amount is $2.34 more than the federal minimum of $5.15 an hour.

Similar to requirements adopted by other U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Denver and Portland, Ore., the Boston law has raised objections from business leaders who claim it would put the city at a competitive disadvantage and force businesses to reveal confidential payroll information.

Food service workers in public schools, housekeeping staff at hotels that receive tax breaks from the city, construction workers and cleaning crews will likely see their pay checks increase.

Summer workers, businesses employing fewer than 25 workers and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 100 employees are exempt.

Menino scoffed at the notion that the ordinance might discourage businesses from working with the city.

"Am I going to kill the economy of the city with this legislation? I dare say not," Menino said.

Samuel Tyler, president of the Municipal Research Bureau of Boston, a watchdog group funded by local businesses, opposed the measure.

"We feel it's vague, poorly written and subject to interpretation and may have unintended economic consequences," he said.

Tyler said the ordinance could hinder the creation of new jobs. He said he was also concerned with the security of payroll information that could be examined by the city.

Boston real estate developer Robert Beal, co-owner of the Beal Companies, said a coalition of opponents are considering working to change the law, or even suing the city.

"Business leaders will be discussing this over the next few days," he said. "There is enormous concern out there."

Despite the controversy, the measure affects only a relatively small pool of workers - between 1,000 and 1,500 workers - according to Maude Hurd, president of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, an economic reform group that has lobbied for the new rules.