San Antonio:
Editorial: Honest, proud work deserves living wage

Express-News: Editorials
Editorial: Honest, proud work deserves living wage
San Antonio is making progress in overcoming a minimum-wage mentality, but work remains.

San Antonio Express-News

Web Posted : 09/03/2001

A young man in jeans, white T-shirt and black work gloves, his dusty baseball cap worn backward, maneuvers a heavy wooden crate off a trailer and onto a rope pulley.

The pulley dangles from a third-floor window of an old, long-abandoned downtown building.

With its yellow brick newly sand-blasted, its insides completely gutted and renovated, the building will soon be transformed, thanks to the labor of this construction worker and others with him.

Next door to the old building, a young woman in a nurse's white dress and sensible shoes steps out the back door of a downtown senior citizens residence. She carries plastic bags of trash to a Dumpster in the parking lot.

Her job is to help meet round-the-clock needs of the elderly men and women who make the building their home.

A United Parcel Service truck pulls up in the alley, and a young woman wearing the company's trademark brown shirt and shorts bounces out the open door on the driver's side. She muscles a stack of boxes and parcels through the freight entrance of a new downtown communications

They are among San Antonio's working people on a typical morning, three of countless thousands in this city who work every day; whose hard labor keeps their families clothed, fed and sheltered; and who, like most working people, take pride in what they do.

This Labor Day is in their honor.

On this particular Labor Day, it's also appropriate to honor this community for a measure of workplace progress in recent months.

For more than a decade, Communities Organized for Public Service and Metro Alliance have pushed and prodded city officials and local employers to break through this city's traditional minimum-wage mentality and begin to institute so-called "living wages."

They're slowly winning converts to the conviction that higher wages mean a more stable local economy and a higher standard of living for thousands of San Antonians.

Progress in recent months has come on two fronts. San Antonio School District recently voted to pay about 600 of its custodians, cafeteria employees and other nonprofessional workers a living wage of $8.25; they were making $7 an hour.

This development came after the city of San Antonio in the last budget cycle approved an $8.25 hourly minimum wage for its workers. A few days ago, City Manager Terry Brechtel proposed a 25-cent increase in the basic living wage paid to about 1,500 city employees, to $8.50 an hour.

A city employees union spokesman complained that the city's commitment to pay a living wage does not go far enough to compensate employees for years of underpayment. He's right, of course.

And so are complaints about the exclusion of "temporary workers" -who, a study shows, earn only $6.25 an hour - from the living wage requirement.

"Even if they are temporary workers, they still have to put food on the table," Sister Gabriella Lohan of Metro Alliance pointed out. "And there's no such thing as a temporary family."

The plight of the temporary worker is a reminder that an hourly wage increase to $8.25 an hour is merely a step in the right direction.

As Tim McCallum, a member of Metro Alliance's executive committee, has pointed out, "No one's going to buy a home or send their kid to college on $8.25 an hour."

So work on wages remains.

In the private sector also, paying a living wage inspires workers to be more loyal and productive, and it saves employers the high costs of excessive turnover. Even an uncertain economy is no excuse for not investing in hard-working employees.

In San Antonio, often characterized as the poorest big city in America, Labor Day is an appropriate day for a renewed commitment - a commitment to San Antonio's labor force to open prosperity's door much wider.