Atlanta Mayor Set to Sign Wage Hike for City Workers

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By Jacquie Lee

Employees of the city of Atlanta will be paid a minimum of $13 per hour starting July 1 under a budget bill the mayor was expected to sign June 22, a spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed (D) told Bloomberg BNA. Over the next two years, that minimum will rise to $15 an hour.

The first phase of the budget plan will increase the wages of 360 city workers. On July 1, 2018, the minimum will rise to $14 an hour, and by 2019 the wage floor will be $15 and cover an estimated 850 employees.

The new wages will cost the city about $5.7 million over the course of two years, Yvonne Cowser Yancy, Atlanta’s commissioner of human resources, told Bloomberg BNA June 22. That estimate doesn’t include potential overtime pay, she said.

A representative from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment about whether the wage hike for public employees applies any pressure on private businesses to raise wages for their workers. However, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has traditionally been opposed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, saying it is likely to hurt business owners and stifle job growth.

A February 2016 post on the U.S. Chamber’s website references a widely circulated 2015 study that suggests incremental minimum wage increases won’t hurt businesses. However, the study notes that increases to $15 “may have more substantial negative effects on the industry. Thus, the industry may be justified in opposing immediate, large hikes in the minimum wages.”

Firefighter Salaries Accelerate, Too

In addition to a bump for city workers, the budget also includes a raise in the starting salary of firefighters--that’s another 441 workers--from $35,500 to $40,000 a year. Firefighters can make more than that if they have special certifications, as do roughly half of Atlanta firefighters, Yancy said.

“It’s been more than a decade since Mayor Reed and city council members have changed the salary of firefighters in the city of Atlanta,” Paul Gerdis, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 134, said. “I do appreciate the mayor and city council members working with the Local 134 to increase the starting annual salary for firefighters.”

IAFF, along with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1644 and the Professional Association of City Employees’ Atlanta chapter, was among the driving forces behind the budget’s approval.

The unions worked alongside Atlanta Jobs with Justice, a coalition of about 35 labor, community, and faith-based organizations. Neil Sardana, the coalition’s coordinator, credits a December pay analysis and a record-breaking turnout at a May 1 city council meeting for the renewed push for a $15 minimum wage, he told Bloomberg BNA.

‘I’m Proud to Be a City of Atlanta Employee’

Union leaders are generally happy with the budget plan.

“It was the first time in a long time that the city came together in solidarity for city employees to make this victorious win,” Gina Pagnotta-Murphy, president of PACE Atlanta, said.” I’m proud to be a city of Atlanta employee.”

Representatives from AFSCME Local 1644 did not respond to a request for comment.

The minimum wage hike serves as a victory for social justice advocates, Sardana said. In 2005, Georgia passed a state law that prevents cities and counties from raising their minimum wages. To circumvent that rule, Sardana and other advocates pushed for a $15 minimum wage for whatever workers they could--in Atlanta’s case, public employees.

“Our strategy has been, since they can’t raise the city wage across the board, they can at least take some sort of action for their employees,” Sardana said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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