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Pima County's Residents Are Poor Due to Chamber, GOP Actions

Thank you for publishing the thoughtful and well-researched "Off the Charts Poor" (June 23). It is disgraceful that Tucson and Pima County have become the center of greatest poverty in the Sunbelt.

I was reminded of two movements which sought to change this situation and were thwarted by the Tucson and Arizona chambers of commerce, in alliance with the Republican Party. The first was the 1997 city initiative to establish a $7 minimum wage. The chamber and local business interests spent an estimated $1 million to defeat the initiative. They made the claim that it would cause massive layoffs. To ensure that this effort would not revisit Tucson or other Arizona cities, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce lobbied the State Legislature to prohibit Arizona cities from establishing a minimum wage. This statute remains on the books today.

The second movement was the "living wage" ordinance adopted by the City Council in 2000. That ordinance would have required businesses contracting with the city to pay workers a minimum of $8 per hour, or $9 for firms which do not provide health insurance. The Legislature once again passed legislation to prohibit cities from establishing such requirements.

The issue of poverty is that of wage suppression. Workers who are not organized into unions are completely at the mercy of businesses, who want to pay the lowest wage they possibly can. These business interests have the money to see that they gerrymander legislative districts and elect Republican politicians who ensure that Arizona workers remain impoverished. What these business interests fail to understand is that their efforts ultimately restrain their own growth: Workers with little disposable income have no money to buy products and services.

This article also bemoans the lack of a workforce which has the skills to be productive in the workplace, yet we see a Legislature starving public education from preschool through the post-graduate level.

Arizona and Pima County are in the throes of extremely unbalanced class forces. Until that is reversed, first and foremost by eliminating all constraints to labor organizing, Tucson is going to continue its deplorable slide into dubious distinctions.

Jim Hannley

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