After years of legal wrangling and delays, voters in New Orleans overwhelmingly passed Proposition A, thereby boosting the minimum wage for all private sector employers in the city by one dollar ($1.00) above the federal level, which is currently $5.15. The new city ordinance will take effect in 90 days.
"The people have finally been given a chance to speak today, " said Louisiana ACORN President Beulah Labostrie, "and they have loudly roared their message to the political and business leaders of New Orleans!" She said further, "Can you believe it -- against all odds we just gave a raise to 87000 workers! Today, as a city New Orleans rose up and said, 'we won't take it anymore.' This election has brought the entire city together - and nothing can tear us apart!"
The New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage has been spearheaded by ACORN, Local 100 Service Employees International Union (SEIU, AFL-CIO), the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, churches, women, and civil rights organizations. This initiative has been part of a burgeoning movement of living wage campaigns which has passed higher minimum wages in 79 cities and counties for public employees and employees of public contractors and recipients of public subsidies. Ten states and the District of Columbia have taken matters into their own hands and raised minimum wages to a higher level since the federal minimum wage has been allowed to decline in real value year after year.
Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer of Local 100 SEIU and Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO, was overjoyed, and said plainly, "New Orleans is not south Florida - no one can take an election away from the people of our city. The voters have finally had an opportunity to express their will, and there can not be a question that they have sent a huge message that there can not be any claim to economic development that does not also carry with it an income policy and a guarantee that workers wages will reflect public investment and support. The business and social leaders of New Orleans have gotten by for decades by giving the citizens and workers promises and parades, and now the voters have clearly said - Enough! We want real jobs with real wages. We want a living wage, because without fair wages for working families there is nothing easy in this City. We are hoping now that the business community will stop its efforts to divide our community and bow to the peoples' will."
The New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage was confident that they would be able to withstand any possible legal challenges to their victory. The campaign cited the fact that it had prevailed in all legal matters to this date confounding the many obstacles opponents had tried to construct to block the progress of this referendum.
The New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage this morning filed a petition with the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans to declare the new minimum wage law legal and the conflicting state law unconstitutional.
"The people of New Orleans were finally given a chance to vote on the minimum-wage increase, and they approved it by an impressive majority," said Louisiana ACORN President Beulah Labostrie. "But it wouldn't be beneath certain short-sighted, greed-driven hotel and restaurant owners to attempt to thwart the will of the people in the courts. We are trying to preempt any such effort."
Because New Orleans is a Home Rule City, the state government is prohibited under the Louisiana Constitution from interfering in matters of local governance. These provisions are the fundamental principles underlying all of the provisions of New Orleans self-governance and the city charter. During the fight to allow voters yesterday's election, the state legislature passed a law, which seeks to short circuit localities from enacting similar minimum wage standards. The Campaign for a Living Wage has asked that the law be declared unconstitutional, as an obvious infringement on home rule.
"After our historic victory on election day, we had hoped that the opponents of the increase would bow to the will of the people and join us in bringing the city together, but instead the industry, particularly in the restaurants and hotels want to continue to fight paying living wages to New Orleans citizens. We have proven in court before that the matter of the minimum wage increase is New Orleans business and has no state or other impact, and that's what the law defines as home rule. These poor sports and Mardi Gras royalists had better be willing to put aside the money for any dollar denied to the 84000 workers who are expecting a raise because democracy works! There have been years of delays, but now is the time for action, and we're not going to stand for any further obstruction of justice for workers, now that the people have clearly spoken," said Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer for Local 100, Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO and Secretary-Treasurer of the Greater New Orleans AFL-CIO.
The suit was field in the name of the New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage and Jean Matthews and Philomenia Johnson, who are workers who would be losing wages from any denial of the increase. The suit is being filed naming the City of New Orleans, Mayor Marc Morial, the City Council of New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana. The New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage and the petitioners are being represented locally by Bill Quigley of Loyola Law School, Louis Robein of Robein, Urann & Lurye, the premier labor law firm in New Orleans, Charles Delbaum, Mark Moreau, and Rowena Jones of the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation (NOLAC), as well as attorneys from the Brennan Center in New York City and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. in New York City.
The New Orleans Campaign for a Living Wage has been spearheaded by ACORN,
Local 100 Service Employees International Union (SEIU, AFL-CIO), the Greater
New Orleans AFL-CIO, the Hospitality, Hotels, and Restaurants Organizing
Committee (HOTROC, AFL-CIO), the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO),
churches, women's, and other civic and civil rights organizations. This
initiative has been part of a burgeoning movement of living wage campaigns
which have passed higher minimum wages in 79 cities and counties for public
employees and employees of public contractors and recipients of public
subsidies. Ten states and the District of Columbia have taken matters
into their own hands and raised minimum wages to a higher level since
the federal minimum wage has been allowed to decline in real value year
after year. On February 2nd, New Orleans voters by close to over a 30000
vote margin voted 2 to 1 to enact a $1.00 per hour increase to the federal
minimum wage for all private sector workers in New Orleans.