By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- In a stark about-face, Mayor Michael Nutter has decided to raise the minimum wage that companies doing business with the city must pay to their workers.
And he extended that requirement to subcontractors as well.
Nutter has long opposed raising the minimum wage required to be paid by firms with local government contracts, but he said he gradually changed his mind.
"This is something that's been on my mind for a long, long time," he said today. "I finally came to the conclusion that the unemployment rate is coming down, more and more people seem to be working, the city is doing a little better. And I came to the conclusion that we cannot leave folks behind -- that if people are doing better in this city, that we need to make sure that some of that benefit is being spread to those who need it the most."
And, with that, Nutter signed an executive order that does two things: it extends the living wage requirement to subcontractors, and secondly, effective next January, it raises the wage rate from $10.88 an hour to $12 an hour.
Nutter's attorneys had previously said that subcontractors were not bound by the living wage provisions that apply to primary contractors.
The mayor said he was convinced to do this both by urgings to all mayors by President Obama, and by the local work of city councilman-at-large Wilson Goode Jr.
Goode sponsored a ballot referendum that will be put to city voters in two weeks on extending the requirement to subcontractors.
"People working for the minimum wage are often being exploited," said Goode, who was present as Nutter signed the executive order, "so public money shouldn't be invested in poverty wages. Today we will help even more employees receive a better wage, one with more dignity."
Goode has been a vocal advocate for employees of subcontractors at Philadelphia International Airport, who have mounted a long campaign to get those firms to pay better wages (see related story). The workers complained that they were being paid less than the federal minimum wage because travelers could tip them -- though tips were, in fact, rare.
Nutter's original opposition to Goode's efforts came out of concern for local businesses still recovering from the recession. At the ceremony, though, he called on local firms -- even those not receiving city contracts -- to pay workers better.
"I want to ask you, before you look at your financial bottom, to look into the eyes and hearts and souls of your workers first. I want you to look at the cost of living in this city, and the minimum wage. And if you can afford it, and if you have the capacity to do it, give your own employees a raise," Nutter said.
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