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Group continues effort to promote a living wage in Spokane

Concerned that average workers earn in one year what executives of the companies they work for earn in one day or less, Joni Brown is working with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane (PJALS) to promote a new expression of the Living Wage Campaign.

PJALS will launch its drive for Initiative 2006-1 from 5 to 8 p.m., Tuesday, April 17, at the Community Building, 35 W. Main.

Living Wage
Joni Brown's work focuses on economic justice.

The initiative would create a Spokane City ordinance requiring retail stores larger than 95,000 square feet to pay employees $10.71 per hour with health benefits or $13.08 without benefits.

Growing up in a military family in a “relatively privileged” environment, living in Germany, Oklahoma, Spokane and Missoula, Joni finds working on this economic justice project a positive opportunity to make change and talk about what poverty means in the community.

In 2003 she earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at Eastern Washington University and now is working on a master’s degree along with her part-time work with PJALS on economic justice.  She also spent two years tutoring children and a year working at a domestic violence shelter in Bellingham.

She started with PJALS in September after the City Council tabled an ordinance calling for a living wage in city contracts.

So organizers decided to pursue the new initiative campaign, gathering signatures to support a living wage for retail and service workers, the largest segment of working poor.

“It has the potential to move thousands from poverty into economic stability,” Joni said.

Organizers seek to gather 6,000 signatures by June 10, to assure they will have 2,300 valid signatures needed for the initiative to be put on the fall ballot.  PJALS seeks volunteers to gather signatures and educate the public.

Joni said her background in non-denominational churches gave a clear call for economic justice, just as there is in most faiths.

“We are called to share what we have and use the power we have to help other people access power,” she said.

“The rate of poverty in Spokane is 14.5 percent, which is greater than state and federal levels,” she said.  “Federal poverty guidelines reflect the poorest of the poor, not those with jobs and families who are not making it because of low wages and dead-end jobs in which they are easily replaced.

“A living wage,” she explained, “benefits businesses, individuals and the community because it reduces welfare expenses, crime, emergency services and employee turnover.  It increases morale, productivity and economic stability for working families. 

“It’s hard to maintain dignity in the face of poverty,” said Joni, who is available to speak at congregations and other community groups.

Living Wage Campaign meetings are at 5 p.m., first and third Tuesdays at the Community Building, 35 W. Main.

For information, call 838-7870.

Mary Stamp - The Fig Tree - © April 2007