Sittenfeld Announces Living Wage Employer Initiative

City officials on Oct. 2 announced the Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative, which will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour.

City officials on Oct. 2 announced the Cincinnati Living Wage Employer Initiative, which will officially recognize employers paying their employees at least $10.10 an hour. The program looks to reward businesses and nonprofits that take the step, providing a website, cincinnatilivingwage.com, where consumers can check to see which businesses pay employees a fair wage.

Though the program is voluntary, the hope is that positive recognition and consumer pressure will encourage businesses to pay employees a wage that allows them to be self-sustaining.

“Although the city of Cincinnati cannot legislate a higher minimum wage — that’s left up to the state — we do feel we have a crucial role to play in creating a culture of living wage employers,” said Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld at an Oct. 2 news conference announcing the initiative, which he helped push.

So far, four organizations, including the city, are listed as partners in the initiative. One is Cincinnati-based Grandin Properties. Another is Pi Pizza, which is opening its first store in Cincinnati downtown at Sixth and Main streets on Oct. 13. The company, based in St. Louis, has paid non-tipped workers at its seven locations in Missouri, Washington D.C. and elsewhere $10.10 an hour for five months. The company plans to employ about 100 people in Cincinnati.

Pi Pizza CEO Chris Sommers estimates about 75 percent of those employees will be hourly and not working for tips, meaning they’ll benefit from the wage boost. Sommers said the increased payroll costs are more than balanced by reduced employee turnover rates and increased productivity.

“We did it without raising prices, and we did it after extensive quantitative and qualitative analysis to make sure we could pay for it and that we could still grow and expand to cities like Cincinnati,” Sommers said of the wage boost.

He encouraged other businesses to make a similar commitment.

The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25, though 23 states, including Ohio, have a higher minimum. The highest minimum wage in the country is in Washington state, where employers must pay adult non-tipped workers at least $9.87. Ohio’s minimum wage is currently $7.95, which will increase to $8.10 in January thanks to a 2005 constitutional amendment that pegs the state’s minimum to inflation. Even at the new state minimum wage, however, a worker working 40 hours a week will still gross less than $17,000 a year. At $10.10, the same worker would earn $21,000 — enough to put a family of three just above the federal poverty level.

“While even the higher hourly wage will leave some people vulnerable, the extra earned income represents the difference between people being able to sustain a basic existence or not,” Sittenfeld said.

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