A proposal to require businesses with city contracts of more than $100,000 to pay their workers a living wage won unanimous approval from a St. Petersburg City Council committee on Thursday.
Council member Karl Nurse had been pushing for the city to require contractors to pay workers $13 an hour for months.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration objected, saying it could prevent small businesses from bidding on city contracts and drive up the cost of contracts by about $578,000 a year.
So Nurse cut a dollar an hour out of his ordinance, dropping the initial benchmark to $12 an hour.
That wage would increase by a dollar each year until the workers made $15 an hour.
Kriseman has already promised city workers to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. But City Administrator Gary Cornwell said, while the administration philosophically supported paying contract workers more, the current proposal was too expensive. He suggested raising the threshhold to $500,000 before contractors would have to pay the living wage.
The council rejected that benchmark, keeping the $100,000 trigger point, saying that it was the right thing to do.
“These are not children. These are full-time jobs for adults. I think it’s immoral that you pay them so little in wages that you guarantee that they are living in poverty,” Nurse said.
The living wage measure has had a rocky road. A final vote was scheduled for earlier this month before being removed from the Oct. 5 agenda after the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce requested changes that allowed employers to count health insurance and other benefits toward the hourly wage mandate.
Those changes were incorporated into the new version, which was approved by Nurse, Amy Foster, Darden Rice and Charlie Gerdes.
Ed Montanari, the lone Republican on the council, said he disagreed with government requiring business to pay a certain wage.
“My thinking is the best way to raise wages in the city is to cut taxes, cut regulations… versus having a top-down approach where the government imposes a living wage,” said Montanari, who isn't a voting member of the BFT committee.
The ordinance will have to be vetted all over again before the entire city council. The new tentative date for the final vote is Nov. 16.
The living wage ordinance now joins other controversial measures that have beend delayed or tabled in recent months as Kriseman continues to be locked in an massively expensive brawl of a mayoral campaign with former mayor Rick Baker.
Other examples include a proposal to mandate solar panels on roofs for new construction and some replacements and a $92,500 outlay for social media “influencers” to tout the city.
The council also won’t approve what is likely to be a dramatic hike in monthly utility bills until after the Nov. 7 election, mostly because they want to see if voters approve a 10-year extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.