TUCSON, Ariz. – Pima County, Ariz.’s second most populous, became the latest jurisdiction to adopt a “living wage” ordinance. When the 3-2 party line vote was announced security guards and janitors hugged each other with joy.

The new measure means they and other contract workers will see a boost in salary from $6 to $9 per hour, $8 if they are provided with health benefits. The victory at the Jan. 8 meeting came after a long effort by religious, labor and community groups.

In the last decade activists twice petitioned to place a minimum wage proposition on the ballot for the City of Tucson. In 1995 they were cheated off the ballot in spite of gathering 20,000 signatures in just three months.

In 1997 activists once again hit the streets and managed to get the measure on the ballot. The chamber of commerce and employers spent huge amounts of money to defeat it at the polls. The City of Tucson passed a living wage ordinance in 1998 that covers contract employees.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, spirits ran high. An overflow crowd forced the county to set up space with closed circuit TV in an adjacent room where citizens could watch a steady stream of pastors, labor leaders and other citizens urge passage of the ordinance.

Strong support was expressed for the suggestion of Supervisor Dan Ekstrom that the county should look into ending the contracting out of these employees and bringing them “in house.” so that they would be eligible for benefits and a union contract. Gordon Packard, speaking on behalf of the National Coalition for the Homeless pointed out that inadequate wages is the single biggest cause of homelessness.

Ian Robertson, president of the Southern Arizona Central Labor Council, called the measure “a great first step,” adding that “we need to bring them ‘in house’ so they can have benefits and regular raises so we don’t have to do this again.”