Book Review: When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level

when_mandates_workWhen Mandates Work [1] is a good resource guide for use in cities and airports located in primary urban markets. Most of the research centers on San Francisco, which likely applies to cities like Seattle, Portland and San Diego and their airports. The content of the book is drawn from individual journal articles written by several different authors, so the content varies dramatically from chapter to chapter.

Part one of the book looks at living wage ordinances in cities and airports. Significant benefits are found in terms of reduced turnover rates and improved employee morale. For restaurants in one study, price increases  of 2.8 percent occurred, which is remarkably similar to estimates on anticipated cost increases derived using MIT’s living wage models.[2] As an aside, I am confounded that there is not bi-partisan support for living wages at fast food restaurants across the country. Why any fiscal conservative would not want the fast food industry to stand on its own, and stop using federal subsidies to bolster worker’s living standards, is incomprehensible.[3] Every fiscal hawk should be wagging their finger at Ronald McDonald to get off the public dole!

Part 2 covers health care benefits and Part 3 provides execution strategies – including the use of Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs).

Anyone looking at CBA’s for their city should take a close look at the CBA negotiated with Twitter in San Francisco. The hearings on this document are readily available on-line in City archives. Twitter clobbered the City in negotiations. Adding insult to injury, the primary beneficiary of Twitter’s move to the City’s central business district (building owners) did not participate at all in the CBA.

If you are on a budget, review the table of contents and search for the individual journal articles that comprise this book which are relevant to your situation, and download those individually (most libraries provide patrons with access to JSTOR – the primary database for academic journal articles).


[1] Michael Reich, Ken Jacobs, and Miranda Dietz, eds., When Mandates Work: Raising Labor Standards at the Local Level (University of California Press, 2014).

[2] http://livingwage.mit.edu/

[3] McDonald’s has in the past directed employees to federal assistance programs through their employee hotline.

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