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The Living Wage in San Jose, CA

Folks with banners and balloons at a Living Wage rally in San Jose, CA.

The San Jose City Council passed a living wage ordinance on November 17, 1998, making the Silicon Valley city the highest living wage city in the country. The ordinance requires contractors providing services ranging from auto repair to security for the city to pay their employees at least $10.75 an hour, or at least $9.50 an hour if the employer pays health benefits.

Silicon Valley, once freckled with orchards and farms, is now a $30 billion haven for computer and information technology. While some skilled workers have profited from the region's exponential boom, many can't keep up with the cost of living, which has increased by 30 percent in recent years.

Kathy Chavez Napoli, who runs her family's truck wrecking operation in the heart of the Valley, and Tom Cochran, a financial consultant, are among the concerned residents worried about the widening wage-gap dividing their community. With a citizens group made up of working professionals, trade union representatives, church and business leaders, Cochran and Chavez Napoli took their concerns to city hall. Together they passed a living wage standard (or raise) for all San Jose employees working under city contracts, a traditionally low-wage earning work force. "I've never gone to a city council meeting to speak," says Cochran. "My heart was beating fast, and I was surprised at all the different kinds of people I saw. Win or lose, it felt good to do it."

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