Defiant Mayor Vetoes ‘Living Wage’ Ordinance


Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan on Thursday made good on his vow to veto an embattled “living wage” ordinance, setting the stage for a near-certain override by the City Council, in all likelihood before his April 8 reelection bid.

“This ordinance is a step in the wrong direction and undermines our efforts to create quality jobs throughout the city,” Riordan said in his veto message to the council, which could take up the issue as early as Tuesday.

The ordinance, one of a growing number of measures around the country that seek to boost wages and benefits of workers for municipal contract holders, calls for wages of at least $7.25 an hour with such benefits as health insurance or $8.50 an hour without specified benefits. Los Angeles’ measure goes a step further by including firms that receive substantial city financial aid to bring jobs and tax revenues to town.


The council has 60 days to act on the veto, but Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who engineered the ordinance’s adoption on a solid 12-0 vote last week, said she wants an override vote as quickly as possible. It takes 10 votes to override a veto.

“We want to get this rolling,” Goldberg said, adding that regulations and other mechanisms important to enforcing the measure cannot be drawn up until its fate is resolved.

Riordan repeated his call for excluding firms that receive subsidies and again questioned the legal propriety of applying the ordinance to the city’s three semi-independent departments: Airports, Harbor and Water and Power.

The city subsidy provision “makes Los Angeles uncompetitive with others who vie in the new global economy, including our neighboring 87 cities in Los Angeles County,” Riordan wrote.

“City subsidies are investments that are intended to result in the creation of quality jobs, economic growth, revitalization of economically disadvantaged areas and increased city revenue,” he added. “The very job-creating companies the city seeks to bolster may be unable to absorb another increase in the cost of doing business or yet another discretionary action by the city.”

Officials at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which organized and helped bankroll a campaign to defeat--or at least water down--the ordinance, hailed Riordan’s action.


Chamber President Ezunial Burts called the mayor’s veto “a courageous action” and said it was “right on target” in recognizing that the city must do what it can to “send a message that we are interested in developing good high-paying jobs.”

Riordan took a lot of heat from his allies in the business community in December 1995 when, after roundly criticizing a measure requiring employees to be kept on when city contracts changed hands, he declined to veto it in the face of a likely override.

Goldberg said Thursday that she was “disappointed . . . but not surprised” by the veto and predicted she would have no trouble in her override drive despite the expected absences of one or two supporters over the next couple of weeks.

“Ten votes are all we need, and I’ve got them,” Goldberg said, basing her confidence that no one will switch sides on the strong pro-ordinance sentiments expressed by every council member who joined in approving the measure on March 18.

Madeline Janis-Aparicio, leader of the Living Wage Coalition of labor, clergy and community activists that worked with Goldberg to get the measure through, accused the mayor of engaging in politically inspired hyperbole with his veto message contentions that the the measure “will cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year” and would “result in higher prices--to be shouldered by all Angelenos.”

“It’s a shame that the mayor has decided to make a political point at the expense of 5,000 poor working families,” said Janis-Aparicio, referring to city fiscal and policy analysts’ reports that the measure would have a limited impact in terms of numbers of workers affected, cost to taxpayers and job losses.

Having her override attempt come at election time is not important to her, Goldberg said.

Riordan is widely considered the heavy favorite in his contest with state Sen. Tom Hayden, and what happens with the living wage ordinance is not expected to have much effect on the election’s outcome. But Hayden, an aggressive, energetic campaigner and a strong advocate of the ordinance, is sure to make hay out of his opponent’s veto and the prospect of the mayor’s repudiation with a council veto.