Public Comment

Update: The Minimum Wage Campaign In Berkeley

By Jack Kurzweil
Friday May 16, 2014 - 11:59:00 AM

Dear Berkeley Wellstone Club Members and Friends,

This is an update on the efforts to have the Berkeley City Council pass an adequate ordinance increasing the Minimum Wage in Berkeley. As many of you know, a “compromise resolution” was introduced at the May 1 City Council Hearing. A bare bones outline of that compromise is attached. That resolution would have Berkeley’s minimum wage catch up to the standard of Berkeley’s “living wage - required of all contractors who do business with the city” after approximately 5 years. That resolution was also characterized as opening the door discussions with other East Bay cities to establish a regional minimum wage.

That compromise was withdrawn at the May 6 City Council meeting by its Council supporters and, in a very heated and confused meeting, a barely token minimum wage increase was passed. That token increase is due for a second reading at the Tuesday, May 20th Council meeting.
Needless to say, advocates of a progressive minimum wage ordinance in Berkeley are not pleased.

Since that meeting, there have some new developments.

First, there are indications that some on the Council have come to understand that they made a very wrongheaded decision on May 6 and may be open to revisiting the May 1 compromise on May 20. This is unfolding like the very complex soap opera that we’ve come to associate with Berkeley politics.
So please mark your calendar and plan to attend the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 20th at 7PM at Old City Hall on Allston and MLK. Numbers mean a lot at this moment.
The Wellstone Club Coordinating Committee has sent a letter (attached) to the Mayor and the Council requesting that they reconsider the “compromise”.
Second, there is a parallel effort underway to place a Berkeley minimum wage initiative on the ballot. This is in its initial stages, but being organized by some very competent people who are well versed in the process.
You may contact the Mayor and your City Council member by clicking on this link.
Looking forward to seeing you on the 20th,
Jack Kurzweil
for the Coordinating Committee

May15, 2014 


To: Mayor Tom Bates 

Councilmember Linda Maio, District 1 

Councilmember Darryl Moore, District 2 

Councilmember Max Anderson District 3 

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin District 4 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli District 5 

Councilmember Susan Wengraf District 6 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington District 7 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak District 8 


From: Jack Kurzweil, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club 

Subject: Berkeley’s Minimum Wage Ordinance 


Dear Mayor Bates and Members of the Berkeley City Council, 

On behalf of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, I am urging you at your May 20th Council Meeting to resurrect the proposal offered by Councilmember Capitelli at the May 1 Council hearing and then withdrawn at the May 6th meeting. I want to urge you to pass that proposal as the best way to: 

- improve the living standards of Berkeley’s workers, 

- allow Berkeley to take leadership in crafting a regional minimum wage standard in the years ahead, 

- provide for a five year window in which some of the real financial problems of the smaller businesses in Berkeley can be addressed. 

On the first point, and contrary to much of the testimony organized by opponents of a minimum wage increase, the May 1 proposal increases the minimum wage over a period of five years. It simply is not a sudden increase. Initially, it would be only marginally more than the California minimum and would start out at considerably less than San Francisco’s current standard.  

Ken Jacob’s testimony on May 1 was a scholarly persuasive presentation on the positive effects on the economies of communities in which higher wages are paid. The experience of San Jose confirms Jacob’s findings. And so does the longer experience that San Francisco has with a higher minimum wage. 

On the second point, a central feature of the May 1 proposal was the projection that it could very likely serve as an attractor that could crystallize a uniform minimum wage standard throughout the East Bay over a period of just a few years. We all agree that such a regional standard would serve to boost the economies and raise the standard of living throughout the East Bay, bringing in large and small cities in what could prove to be a remarkable and uplifting process.  

In the absence of the May 1 proposal, there is no attractor for a regional process and Berkeley itself is left with only a small crumb. How sad to throw away a grand possibility that could reaffirm Berkeley’s leadership, make us all proud, and leave us with a feeling of positive accomplishment. 

On the third point, our members found themselves reacting to the testimony of business owners with very mixed feelings. The Chamber of Commerce and the Restaurant Owners Association did a disservice to both their constituents and to the City of Berkeley. They falsely claimed that they were excluded from the process of formulating a minimum wage proposal and equally falsely claimed ignorance of the character of the proposal until the very last minute. They claimed to be supportive of some kind of minimum wage increase, but spoke even more harshly about the May 1 compromise than against the Labor Commission Proposal. And they continued their opposition even when the May 1 compromise was taken off the table on May 6.  

The testimony of owners of larger, higher end restaurants employing 30 – 50 workers that they couldn’t afford a minimum wage increase was simply disingenuous.  

But the opponents of raising the minimum wage never mentioned the elephant in the room, the excessive rent that is charged to most businesses in Berkeley – typically to absentee landlords – that drains wealth from our city. The primary financial pressure that is felt by small businesses in Berkeley is from excessive rents, not from excessive wages. 

Adopting the May 1 compromise would allow Berkeley a five year period in which the City Council could study and implement ways of discouraging high rents on small businesses through taxation, subsidies, and other devices. Neither economic development nor social justice is achieved by allowing either underpaid workers or small businesses to be subject to economic pressure and deprivation. 

The remarkable thing about the May 1 compromise is that it opens up a line of progressive social and economic development that would be to the economic advantage of the entire East Bay. It would be unforgiveable to let it die. 

The signatories to this letter have worked hard for many, many years to make Berkeley a progressive city, a beacon of progress to the country. Many ideas that got their start here have had a nationwide acceptance over the years. Given the forward steps already taken in many of our surrounding cities, we think the time is right for a major step toward ending, or at least curtailing, extreme poverty in our city and state. Progressives elected many of you and urge you to rise to this historical occasion, and pass a meaningful and decisive bill to combat the extreme poverty to which many of our workers are subject. Act Now! 

The Wellstone Club coordinating Committee: 

Mal Burnstein, Zipporah Collins, Matthew Hallinan, Kate Harrison, Juli Dickey, Richard Tamm, Debbie Dille, Nicky Gonzalez – Yuen, Pamela Drake, John Katz, Ellen Augustine, Jack Kurzweil