On February 10,  Oakland City Council’s committee for economic development voted unanimously to waive the Living Wage Ordinance for the Walgreen’s being built at the corner of Seminary and Bancroft avenues. If the decision is approved by the city council Walgreen’s, or another large retail company, will be allowed to pay employees the city’s $12.25 minimum wage instead of the $14.10 living wage.

Following the vote Ann Nomura, a member of the Service Employees International Union, wrote council woman Anne Campbell-Washington, who is one of the members of the economics committee who voted for this waiver. Campbell-Washington responded and both have agreed to allow Oakland Local to publish the exchange.

Dear Councilperson Campbell-Washington,

On February 10, 2015 you voted to waive Oakland’s Living Wage Ordinance for a proposed Walgreens. I was very concerned about this vote because Oakland’s small businesses are struggling to comply with this ordinance and it seems tremendously unfair to exempt a huge corporation. I also worry that if you continue to vote for waivers or exemptions to the Living Wage Ordinance it undermines the legislation and all of the people who worked to pass it.

SEIU gave you an endorsement, campaign funds, and volunteer support. Big labor fought to have you elected because they believed the living wage and the rights of workers were a top priority for you.

I was very relieved that Walgreens came forward and said they would not seek an exemption to Oakland’s Living Wage Ordinance, but I remain confused and concerned about your position.

Will you continue to vote to waive the Living Wage Ordinance if large corporations request exemptions?

What is your position on this issue?

Ann Nomura SEIU 1021 Member

Dear Ms. Nomura,

Thank you for your email.

There seems to be some confusion about this particular vote.  I can assure you that the moral compass that guides my support for the minimum wage has not changed one bit.  I support, championed and voted for an increase in the minimum wage to help working families.

The “Walgreens” vote has nothing to do with the new minimum wage law of $12.25. This vote wasn’t an exemption to the minimum wage. Walgreens is and was always planning on paying in excess of the new minimum wage of $12.25.

Many people were confused by this vote because the timing coincides with the implementation of the new law.

This vote is about the Living Wage Ordinance that only applies to City contracts and projects that have received a certain level of subsidy. In order to develop this difficult retail project in a distressed neighborhood in East Oakland, the City sold the land at a lower price and helped the developer obtain new market tax credits to help build the entire retail development.

This development has been very difficult and has been in the works for a long time. The developer has been working with Walgreens urging them to be the anchor tenant of this development, but Walgreens was threatening that they would walk away without a waiver of the Living Wage Ordinance (adopted in 1998) which is $12.27 with benefits or $14.05 without benefits.

Without an anchor tenant, this retail development would not work because none of the other stores would be able to come in. I was not willing to risk losing the anchor tenant from this project because then we would be looking at another long period of time where this property sits vacant and attracts exactly what you would imagine — violent crime and blight.

I heard clearly from the neighbors who live closest to this property — even District 4 residents of Melrose and Fairfax — urging me to waive the Living Wage Ordinance so that this project can move forward and not get stalled.  There is such a desperate need for commerce and more importantly the jobs that would be created.

Given the negative PR much compounded by the confused nomenclature of the vote, Walgreens called the day after the vote and said that they were no longer requesting the Living Wage Ordinance waiver, and on Thursday, they wrote a letter saying they are no longer seeking a waiver.  A ‘win-win’ for the City and its residents.

I spoke to a government relations employee at Walgreens who stated that they pay their employees more than what is required in the Living Wage Ordinance anyway, so it is very frustrating that they were pushing on this and threatening to walk away.

However, as a Council, we must keep the pressure up on Walgreens and the developers to ensure this project is completed and the blighted property becomes a center for jobs, economic development, commerce, and provides for working families.  Oakland’s new minimum wage is central to that.

Warmest regards,

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