Longtime observers of Vermont news are very familiar with the Friday afternoon newsdump — the carefully timed release of bad news, hopefully too late for reporters to get fully engaged before offices close, and certainly in time for the Friday night TV news (second-lowest TV viewing night in the week) and the Saturday newspapers, the least-read editions of the week. In Vermont, it’s most commonly associated with our buddies at Vermont Yankee, who were forever dumping news about leaks, accidents or shutdowns on Friday afternoon.
This past Friday, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger appeared to pull a news dump regarding the city’s livable wage ordinance:
Mayor Miro Weinberger has asked his city attorney to conduct a “comprehensive review” of Burlington’s livable wage policy (sic), and report back to him in 90 days with her conclusions and recommendations concerning the policy (sic).
I say “sic” because it’s not a policy, it’s a city ordinance. I think there’s a difference.
The Mayor’s request comes just a few days after controversy erupted over the granting of an LWO exemption to the Skinny Pancake in its new food-service contract with the Burlington International Airport.
Weinberger said he notified the city council of the review Thursday. He said the review by [City Attorney Eileen] Blackwood is necessary to “fully understand exactly how the policy works.”
Okay, maybe it is a policy. Are “policy” and “ordinance” now synonymous? Or is this a subtle rhetorical device to undercut the LWO?
And if Miro is having trouble understanding how the policy works, perhaps he should consult State Auditor-elect Doug Hoffer, who helped draft the ordinance in the first place. He might know a thing or two about it.
I wouldn’t get this far in the weeds, except that the whole thing smells a bit funny to me. Weinberger’s call for a review, coming so quickly on the heels of the Skinny Pancake issue, could be taken as the opening gambit in an effort to weaken (or kill) the LWO. If I knew nothing about Weinberger, the Skinny Pancake, the Airport or the LWO, that’s how I’d interpret it. The timing fits.
It’s possible that the Mayor honestly wants some clarification. There was a lot of confusion over whether or not the LWO actually applied to Airport vendors. And there is one area of the LWO that seems to require some clarification: the exemption process.
But when the Mayor says his aim is to determine “how to keep the policy (that word again) relevant and robust,” I start to wonder. Does he think the LWO is somehow irrelevant, at a time when more and more working-class people are struggling to stay out of poverty?
This post isn’t about the Skinny Pancake; it’s about the broader issue and the future of the LWO. As a resident of Montpelier, I don’t have particular connections to Burlington politics; I’d love to hear what some Burlington Dems and Progs have to say about this.
Postscript. On the same day it published a story about Weinberger’s review, the Freeploid posted an explainer about the only other business to ever get an exemption from the LWO in its 11-year history: TD Bank, in its 2010 contract with the city for banking and cash management services. The idea that a giant institution like TD Bank can’t pay a living wage was a bit surprising to me, but perhaps they skimp on the janitors or something. It was also a bit surprising that the city couldn’t find another financial institution capable of offering the needed services and paying a livable wage, but what do I know.
Anyway, the Freeploid’s explainer included a passage form the city/TD contract that made me laugh out loud:
“Specifically, this … provision is modified to exempt TD Bank from having to comply with the ordinance for those staff members who may process a transaction or perform maintenance related to this contract.” But TD Bank is not exempt from meeting the livable wage requirements for management employees, the contract states.
Nice one! As if any bank, anywhere, pays any of its management employees anything close to #37,000 a year. Yeah, I don’t think TD had any trouble adhering to that clause in the contract.