Monday, October 08, 2001

Advocacy Group Campaigns for South Oakland Living Wage

For the last three months, the South Oakland Living Wage Campaign (SOLWC) has been actively lobbying businesses, universities, and councilmen to support a living wage bill for South Oakland. The Campaign has proposed a bill to increase the minimum wage of South Oakland residents from the federal minimum of $5.15 to a South Oakland minimum of $6.35. The movement comes as South Oakland residents are struggling to meet the needs of their daily lives.

“We're sick and tired of being denied our rights as South Oakland residents. We're tired of only being able to party four nights a week. As young adults it is our unalienable, God-given right to party at least six nights a week,” SOLWC spokesperson Allie M. Carson reported. “Some people are even struggling to the point where they can only go out on Friday and Saturday nights. Come on, does the city think we are responsible adults?”

The South Oakland Living Wage Campaign began four months ago on the porch of a Semple Street home. Residents Colin Stopple, Erin Deliva, and Julie Crass were the impetus for the movement. “We had just finished a case of [Miller] High Life, and our buzzes were about to kick in,” Deliva remembers. “I made the suggestion for a second case, figuring we might as well keep the night moving. But when our collected funds came to a total of $8, I knew we were in trouble. We would have to settle for a six pack from Uncle Jimmy's. All we needed for that case was three extra dollars. At first it was a selfish revelation, but then I started thinking about all the other South Oakland residents who were a couple dollars short, just like us. It was then I knew something had to be done.”

Deliva then started a grassroots movement throughout the South Oakland community. Her efforts included finding like-minded citizens to campaign for the bill and finding an economist to devise standards to base the wages upon.

Pitt economics professor James Tuggle volunteered to conduct a study. “The first thing I noticed about South Oakland expenditures was the alcohol disbursement. I was like, ‘holy shit do these people drink a lot.’ I mean, some of them pay more in alcohol costs per month than in rent. I’ve found this kind of thinking leaves you with two choices: either earn more money or lessen your habits. I believe the only logical choice is for the inhabitants to make more money.”

Dr. Tuggle listed several reasons why it would be foolish to expect Pitt students to lessen their habits. “For these kids, their entire social life revolves around hanging out and getting hammered,” explained Tuggle. Many of them depend on [illegal] substances to have sexual relations that may even lead to serious relationships. We're talking about the future of our society. It is our responsibility as the current leaders of society to ensure that a place is made for the next generation of professors, businesspersons, and family men.”

While SOLWC has gained support from the world of academia, opponents se the proposed bill as devastating to the community.

“A South Oakland Living Wage would essentially destroy the South Oakland economy as we know it,” Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID) head Nancy Cudrey reported. “You won't see the $4 pizzas, $9.99 Miller High Life cases, $2.50 Straub pitchers, or the $10 dime bags that South Oakland is known for. With more money in residents' pockets there will be a desire to splurge on the more luxurious Say Cheese Pizza or the case of bottled Yuengling Lager. And half-price restaurant nights might be decreased to only twenty-five percent off. It would be disastrous. Not to mention what the increase in labor costs would do to existing prices. If you thought the forty [ounce bottle] increase at The 'O' two years ago was something, you haven't seen anything yet. If a South Oakland Living Wage bill passes, you might just see forty prices rise above the $4.00 mark.”

While both parties are adamant about their viewpoints a version of a South Oakland Living Wage bill will be proposed before City Council in November. If it passes Council approval, the city could see a South Oakland Living Wage referendum on next November's ballot.

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