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Advocating for a Change

Kim Dennis, a physical therapist at the Flagstaff Unified School District, advocates for her son, Nathan, Tuesday night before the Flagstaff City Council, asking them to modify Proposition 414.

The Flagstaff City Council chambers were at least half full of residents, parents and employees of nonprofits who serve the disabled Tuesday night.

Many of them pleaded with Council to amend Proposition 414, the recently passed local minimum wage law. Because the comments came during the public participation portion of the agenda, Council was not able to respond to the commenters.

Armando Bernasconi, the CEO of Quality Connections, said that the rapid increase in the local minimum wage would put some Flagstaff companies out of business. Quality Connections provides job training and jobs for people who have physical and mental disabilities.

“The unintended consequences (of the law) have not been discussed,” he said. “Proposition 414 is broken. Council has the legal authority and moral obligation to do something.”

Currently, the new local wage law states that Flagstaff’s minimum wage will be at $10 an hour or at least $2 above the state minimum wage, whichever is greater, by July 1. The state minimum wage changed to $10 on Jan. 1. This means that when the local wage law takes effect on July 1, the local minimum wage would have to be at least $12 an hour.

A number of nonprofits in the Flagstaff community and around the state have protested the increases in both the state and local minimum wages, saying they can’t absorb that rise with the funding they get from the state.

The state doesn’t pay the full cost of services for these clients and the organizations can’t raise prices on their clients, said Laurie Bosse from the Tungland Corporation, adding these organizations will have to close or move out of Flagstaff if the local wage law is not amended.

“This is not something that we can withstand,” she said. “This is not a threat -- this is happening.”

Several parents and caregivers for people with disabilities who use the services provided by Quality Connections, LOU Corp and the Hozhoni Foundation said they might have to move out of the area to find help for their family members.

“I’m 81 and my wife is 77. We can’t have our daughter Julie at home any longer,” said Darryl Huber.

Kimberly Dennis, a physical therapist with the Flagstaff Unified School District, said she could take the young man that she has guardianship over into her home, but she wouldn’t be able to provide him with the care or activities that LOU Corp could.

“And what 23-year-old man wants to live with his guardian?” she asked.

All of them asked Council to consider amending the local law to eliminate the requirement that the local wage always be at least $2 above the state’s minimum wage.

'TEARING THE TOWN APART'

A new group, Bridging Flagstaff, also asked Council to consider amending the new law and offered several possible solutions at the meeting.

The organization is trying to find the middle ground between those who support the new law and those who oppose it, said Paul Deasy, a member of Bridging Flagstaff.

“The situation is tearing this town apart,” he said. “I’m seeing people attacking each other over this -- and not just economically attacking each other. There have been physical threats.”

In a phone interview, Deasy said he’s been attacked by both sides. He said he provided information and data to the Flagstaff Living Wage Coalition that was used by Flagstaff Needs a Raise to create Prop. 414, but he did not write the language for the proposition.

The group’s main focus is to slow down the timetable of wage changes for the next few months, he said. The $2 increase above the state minimum wage places too much stress on employers to adjust to two wage increases within six months and could lead to employees losing their jobs, Bridging Flagstaff states on its Facebook page.

The group wants to add a clause to the new local law that would require employers to provide paid sick time to employees. This is similar to the language that is in the state minimum wage law that was passed in November, Deasy said. The group is asking for the additional language because they fear that the new state law may be overturned by the courts.

Bridging Flagstaff is also asking for an inflation cap on the local law. The law calls for the local minimum wage to be tied to the consumer price index after it reaches $15 an hour. A year with high inflation could increase wages to a point that some businesses would have to close.

Deasy said the organization recognizes that Council’s hands may be tied. Arizona law prohibits local governments and the state government from changing the language of a voter initiative, such as Prop. 206 or 414, unless the changes “further the purposes of the initiative.”

Ed. Note: This story has been changed from the original.

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The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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