Press Release: Ground-Breaking Berkeley Wage Ordinance on Tonight's Agenda

From Harry Brill, Wendy Bloom, Nicky Gonzalez-Yuen
Tuesday May 06, 2014 - 10:44:00 AM

On Tuesday May 6 at 7 PM, the Berkeley City Council will entertain an ordinance that, if passed, would raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to the highest in the state. The measure comes after over a year of intensive study, debate and dialogue in the City about how best to remedy increasing levels of wage inequality that has left millions of working families in poverty. 

Council Members Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguin introduced the measure at last Thursday’s special Council meeting on the minimum wage at which supporters of the wage increase won a crucial procedural vote to carry out a “first reading” at the Council’s May 6 meeting. 

The compromise measure was based on a draft submitted by the city’s Labor Commission last month. Working alongside members of the Raise The Wage East Bay community coalition, Council members Laurie Capitelli and Jessie Arreguin fashioned an ordinance that will raise Berkeley’s Minimum Wage to $13.34 in today’s dollars with a built-in cost of living adjustment. $13.34 is the rate that workers currently receive under Berkeley’s “Living Wage” ordinance that only applies to employers on city land or contracting with the city. 

The proposed ordinance would phase-in the minimum wage increase over approximately 6 years with an initial increase of 11% and then annual increases thereafter of between 7 and 7.5%. With the annual COLA, it is anticipated that Berkeley minimum wage workers would receive approximately $15.25 per hour by the year 2020. 

The initial proposal by the city’s Labor Commission had called for health benefits as well as an immediate increase to the “living wage” level for employees in large businesses. But, after listening to both worker and employer groups, adjustments were made to ease the transition to higher wages and benefits. 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said of the law, “With this compromise, Berkeley is able to lead by example with the highest living wage in the East Bay, giving low wage workers the raise that has been long overdue.” 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli added: “It is my fervent hope that labor, social justice advocates and the businesses of Berkeley can come together to support this proposal. I believe that adopting this modified plan in Berkeley can serve as a model for our entire region.“ 

Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, spokesperson for Raise the Wage East Bay, said “For too long we have relied on an economy that by design keeps a large number of its workers on the bare edges of survival. This approach is a not only is morally bankrupt, it just does not work.” Instead, he said, “We need an economy where regular people can live in dignity and make enough money to spend in their communities.” 

Indeed, minimum wage increases in other cities provide evidence that significant minimum wage increases can be associated with strong economic growth. In San Jose, a successful ballot initiative campaign raised the city’s minimum wage by $2.00 starting in 2013. The results one year later: 

□ $160 million invested in the economy as low wage workers had more money to spend □ Unemployment decreased from 7.6% to 5.6% □ Business growth was up by 4.9%, from 75,000 registered businesses to 84,000 □ There was a net increase of jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector alone of 4000 positions 

The cost to consumers has been minimal. For example, research from UC Berkeley’s Labor Center has demonstrated that a 10% cost in the minimum wage translates to a .7% increase in menu prices. 

“We believe Berkeley citizens are more than happy to pay an additional 60 cents on a $20 pizza knowing that workers are making a living wage,” said Yuen. 

Numerous community and labor groups have expressed overwhelming support for increasing the minimum wage in Berkeley. Resolutions of support for the Labor Commission’s proposal we passed by the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, the Sierra Club, the Cal Berkeley and the Berkeley City College Associated Students, the National Women’s Political Caucus, The Alameda Labor Council, the Wellstone Democratic Clubs, the California Nurses Association, the Berkeley School Board, SEIU 1021 and other groups. 

Cathy Campbell, head of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers said: “The Berkeley Federation of Teachers strongly supports a living wage ordinance in Berkeley that includes a COLA and consideration of benefits.We know that every step we take to improve the economic security of Berkeley families will reap rewards for our children and youth in their education.” 

Wendy Bloom, Labor Commissioner and leader in the California Nurses Association, said “As a labor commissioner and as a nurse, I totally support providing a living wage for the health and well-being of Berkeley workers. This is long overdue.” 

At the Council meeting on May 1, over 250 supporters of the wage increase outnumbered opponents by 4 to 1. Advocates for the increase pushed back hard against the pleas by restaurateurs to provide an exemption from the wage increase for tipped workers. Advocates of the increase noted that such an exemption is strictly forbidden by state law. Further, Saru Jayaraman, head of the Restaurant Opportunity Center, an advocacy group for food servers notes that “Nationally, servers have a median wage of just about $9 an hour including tips, use food stamps at double the rate of the general restaurant workforce, and are three times as likely to live in poverty as any other worker.” 

For information about the minimum wage act and those who support it, contact: 

Nicky Gonzalez Yuen 510-912-3181 Nickygy@mac.com 

Harry Brill 510-559-3138 harry.brill@sbcglobal.net 

Wendy Bloom 510-701-0192 WEBloom@sbcglobal.net