Amid Pandemic Recovery, A Push For A “Living Wage” In Tompkins Co.

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ITHACA, NY (WSKG) — Many businesses are having a hard time filling positions as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say this is a result of unemployment benefits paying more than what people would make, while others say it is a case for raising wages.

Ithaca Marriott Downtown by Jimmy Jordan

Like a lot of businesses in leisure and hospitality, the Ithaca Marriott Downtown is ready to make it’s COVID-19 comeback, but was struggling to fill positions. 

The hotel’s game plan: become a living wage employer. Now, it has a certification from the Tompkins County Workers Center to back it up. 

The Ithaca Marriott is now paying all their employees at least $15.37 an hour.

Cathy Hart, the hotel’s general manager, said, when it came to solving their staffing problems, it was a “no brainer.” 

That’s exactly what Pete Meyers wants to hear. He is a co-founder of the Tompkins County Workers Center, and has made advocating for higher minimum wages a career. He has been at it for almost 20 years.

The living wage the worker’s center pushes for is supposed to be enough for a Tompkins County resident, working full-time, to meet their expenses and save some money if they “live frugally.” 

Tompkins County is not a cheap place to live. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it is the most expensive county to raise a family in Central New York and the Southern Tier.

Meyers made the argument that a living wage creates stability for employers and workers alike.

“The best reason to pay people a living wage, from an employer’s point of view, is that you’re garnering a sense of loyalty from those workers,” said Meyers.

Tompkins County’s living wage gets calculated every two years by Alternatives Federal Credit Union. To find that number, they account for a variety of annual living expenses, like food, internet, and the average rent for a one bedroom.

If an employer commits to paying their employees the wage the credit union calculates, they become eligible to apply for a Living Wage Employer Certification through the worker’s center. Meyers said that one of the ideas behind the certification is to give employers a strong advertising tool.

To get certified, the Ithaca Marriott Downtown only had to give two positions a raise, from $14.50 to $15.37. Once the Marriott’s application was in with the worker’s center, that’s when management saw the tide turn. Hart said the hotel saw a flood of applicants, and was able to hire twenty employees in a matter of six weeks. 

Currently, Alternatives Federal Credit Union is working on an updated living wage calculation. That should be out later this month.