Public Comment

No Tears for Working People at the Berkeley City Council

By Harry Brill
Friday May 16, 2014 - 12:16:00 PM

A group of organizers has decided to create a minimum wage initiative that will provide a livable wage for workers in Berkeley who are currently working for poverty wages. The group, called the Berkeley Citizens for a Fair Minimum Wage, delivered this morning a notice to the Berkeley City Clerk. This action will begin our petition campaign for a ballot initiative establishing a new Berkeley Minimum Wage at $15 an hour along with an annual cost of living adjustment and paid sick leave.

We are responding to the Berkeley City Council's approval of a very diluted minimum wage ordinance that essentially ignores the plight of poor workers.

It is very surprising to many that the majority on the Berkeley City Council lack empathy for poor workers and their families. But this is the reality. It is true that the City Council has often been progressive on foreign policy issues, but this generally has no impact on Berkeley residents and workers. It has also often been progressive on many social issues, which certainly does matter. However, although its foreign policy stance and its support on social issues is commendable, it has also created an illusion about the Council.

On bread and butter issues, the Council is conservative. It appreciably favors business, including big business, over the welfare of working people. To take just one example, it opposed higher minimum wages for larger and highly profitable businesses.  

That contrasts with the view of the very conservative San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Chip Johnson, who thinks that the minimum wage should be $15 an hour for larger businesses even if they provide health care. About the so called plight of small businesses, the unfavorable economic climate for low wage working people and their vulnerability certainly suggests that they are not paid anywhere near the maximum that employers could afford. 

The City Council will be discussing the minimum wage issue again this coming Tuesday, May 20, 7pm in the old city hall (on MLK between Allston and Center). We will give it another try, particularly since Linda Maio has mentioned that she wants to support a better ordinance. Please do everything you can, including encouraging others to come to the meeting. The issue is early on the agenda, and so you won't have to suffer a long wait.