After several months of continuations, a proposal seeking to set a minimum wage of $12.75 an hour for city workers received the backing of the City Council’s Finance Committee on Monday.
Attached to the measure as a condition, however, are the outcomes of a pair of legal reviews – one regarding whether the Cranston Public Library’s Board of Trustees is bound by the proposed new wage floor, the other focused on whether the ordinance amendment is in keeping with state law.
Nonetheless, for the proposals backers, Monday’s 5-0 vote represented a key step forward.
“We keep continuing this, and I think it’s time that we take a vote, and you either support a minimum wage of $12.75 in the city or you don’t,” Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan – who sponsored the measure along with Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos – said ahead of the vote.
“It’s not even a reasonable wage, but it’s closer to a reasonable wage,” Stycos said of the proposed wage floor as he, too, called for the measure’s passage.
The proposal, originally introduced in September, seeks to set a $12.75 minimum wage for all Cranston employees – excluding high school students, Cranston Public Schools employees and seasonal workers – as of Jan. 1, 2021. That is the same point at which raises for the next mayor and council will take effect, and the minimum wage proposal emerged following the debate over the increased compensation for city leaders.
Donegan joined Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins, Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley, Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas and Ward 6 Councilman Michael Favicchio in sending the minimum wage plan to the full council with a favorable recommendation.
Council President Michael Farina, who sits on the committee, cited his father’s part-time employment with the library in removing himself from the discussion and vote. Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady was absent from the seven-member committee’s proceedings.
Initially, it appeared as though the proposal from Donegan and Stycos might either be continued again or fall short of the needed support.
Favicchio, city Finance Director Robert Strom and others echoed concerns over the timing of the proposal, saying they believed it would be more appropriate to consider it during the upcoming budget review process for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Doing so, it was argued, would allow for greater consultation with municipal department heads and avoid any unintended issues, such as strained budgets or dissention among workers.
“Honestly, I’d rather wait … I don't want to implement this if we don't have the money,” Paplauskas said at one point.
He added: “I agree with [Donegan] that it’s important … I’d rather do my homework on it.”
During the debate, council members were advised that the Cranston Public Library’s legal counsel is reviewing whether setting a minimum wage would infringe upon the rights of the library trustees. The reviews has been spurred by the fact that the library operates under state law and negotiates its own contracts with its workers, unlike other employees whose contracts are negotiated directly with the mayor and administration.
Strom said of the city’s 155 part-time workers, 63 currently earn less than $12.75 an hour. Of those employees, 41 – roughly 75 percent – are employed by the Cranston Public Library.
He said the total annual cost of the new minimum wage would be $66,000, a figured that includes payroll taxes. Given the planned Jan. 1 effective date, the cost of the proposal for the coming fiscal year – which runs from July 1 to June 30 – would be $33,000, half the yearly total.
Ultimately, concerns were allayed by the amendment to condition the move on the two legal reviews – a motion made by Paplauskas at Favicchio’s suggestion and approved on a 5-0 vote.
Stycos and Donegan also pushed back against the wisdom of delaying consideration until the budget review process.
“There’ll be a lot of pressure in this budget not to have a tax increase because it's an election year,” Stycos said.
McAuley joined his Democratic colleagues in calling for a vote, saying: “I think it’s time to show our hand. I’m willing to show my hand tonight.”
Hopkins said he went “back and forth” on the proposal, but in the end decided to support it because of the council’s action on its own pay and that of the mayor.
“How could we possibly vote for an increase in our salary, as well deserved as it is, and how could we vote for the mayor’s salary to increase, and not take the most vulnerable or the lowest of our salaries and not give them a look?” he said. “I just can’t in good conscience look at that and vote the other way.”
During public comment, resident Dana Holmgren, a member of the Cranston Action Network, urged council members to support the minimum wage proposal. Doing so, she said, would continue a “recent spirit of bipartisanship” on the council.
“I think this is going to make a much bigger difference … for these individual workers than for the city itself, on the city's budget,” she said.
The minimum wage ordinance is scheduled to go before the full council for consideration on Jan. 27.