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Living Wage 2007 Press Release

April 23, 2007 - Alternatives Federal Credit Union has released its bi-yearly Living Wage Study, which shows the minimum wage needed in Tompkins County to earn a living for a single person working full-time.

The updated study looks at housing, transportation, health care and other necessities, as well as recreation and savings to come up with an annual figure of $20,450, up 7% from $19,102 two years ago. As an hourly wage, that would be $9.83/hour for a 40-hour week. This figure represents the Living Wage for an individual receiving health insurance from their employer.

Alternatives is one of 41 employers in Tompkins County that provides this Living Wage. Leni Hochman, Chief Operations Officer of Alternatives Federal Credit Union, says the reason is simple: “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Hochman continued: “Alternatives’ mission is to promote economic justice. We have programs and services designed to help people in this community move out of poverty, to become financially self-sufficient. It follows that we provide our own staff with a fair and just wage. It is economic justice that a worker be paid a living wage, have affordable health care and be treated with dignity.”

Joining Hochman on the panel were:
Bill Myers, Chief Executive Officer at Alternatives Federal Credit Union
Michael Hoysic, Human Resources Manager, GreenStar Cooperative Market
Joanna Gordon, Cashier, GreenStar Cooperative Market
Pete Meyers, Tompkins County Workers’ Center

The minimum wage set by the federal government is $5.15/hour. New York State recently raised the minimum wage to $7.15/hour. Hochman says that’s a good start, but clearly not sufficient to live in Tompkins County. Pete Meyers from Tompkins Country Workers’ Center added, “We’re actually hoping to inspire people to get angry about the fact that they’re not making enough money.”

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center use the Living Wage as determined by Alternatives to advocate for workers, educate the community and organize campaigns to help workers get a Living Wage. They recently started certifying Living Wage Employers and publishing the list on their web page [http://www.tclivingwage.org/] and e-mail newsletter.

Alternatives published its first Living Wage Study in 1994 and has updated it every other year since then. The study was originally done for internal use by Alternatives, but its release to the public was encouraged by the Board of Directors. It has stimulated important discussion about the meaning of earning a living wage and provided a benchmark for others to use in Tompkins County.

And paying living wages has advantages to the community. When people are paid enough to support themselves, they no longer need to rely on public assistance in the form of housing subsidies, medical assistance, food stamps and welfare, which are paid for in everyone’s taxes. Further, people earning a living wage pay more taxes and buy more goods and services in the local economy. The vast majority of economic research concludes that there is little or no disemployment effect associated with wage increases, and the benefits far outweigh any negative consequences.

Lynn Lauper, a Member Service Specialist at Alternatives says, “Crippling student loans have been the legacy of my Cornell degree. I have a one year-old daughter and I work full-time to "just get by" every month. I do not know how we would subsist if I were not lucky enough to work for an employer who believes in paying a Living Wage.”

The Alternatives Federal Credit Union Board has committed to paying staff the Living Wage for an individual and would like to see other employers follow suit. They assert that the Living Wage not only benefits employees, but has advantages to businesses too. It can reduce employee turnover and absenteeism, and lower recruitment and training costs. Appreciative staff means increased productivity and higher morale and commitment to the company.

For details on the numbers, see the Living Wage Chart and Notes.

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On a Tuesday afternoon, students in the Cornell Cooperative Extension's directed SIFE (Students with Interrupted Formal Education) program at Belle Sherman Elementary can be found hard at work learning about money and getting hands-on banking experience depositing money into their Student Credit Union accounts at Alternatives. The students, all refugees from Burma, range in age from 2nd to 5th grade. more»

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