Public Comment

Berkeley City Council: A Cliff Hanger on the Minimum Wage

By Harry Brill
Friday May 23, 2014 - 05:01:00 PM

Tuesday's (May 20) Berkeley City Council session were disappointing but at least, so far, not a disaster. Only hours before the meeting, a small delegation met with Mayor Tom Bates who assured the delegation that he would support a minimal wage proposal that would peak by 2021 to $15 an hour, which afterward would rise each year according to the rate of inflation. He even said that we should feel free to circulate his progressive document. 

He kept that promise by making his proposal. However, to our surprise, when a vote was taken about an hour later it lost because Mayor Bates voted against it. 

The Council finally agreed unanimously to a diluted motion, but one which was nevertheless much better than the miserable proposed ordinance voted on at the last council meeting. In a nutshell, beginning this year on October 1, the minimum wage would be $10 an hour. On October 1, 2015 it would reach $11 an hour, and would peak on October 1, 2016 at $12.53 an hour. 

Unfortunately, the $10 hourly wage that would become effective in October would be 74 cents lower than the current minimum wage in San Francisco. But in contrast to the proposal that the Council had approved a few weeks ago, the higher wage begins this year rather than the next. Also, if this proposal sticks, for the first time it establishes the principle of a minimum wage for all private sector Berkeley workers. The year 2000 living wage ordinance applies only to the relatively small group of workers whose employers contract with the City or who are on City property. 

Although we haven't achieved what we advocated, we have made a good beginning. Among our gains is that we have begun planning for a livable wage ballot initiative for November 2016. It will contain provisions absent from the Council's current proposed ordinance. An annual cost of living increase is necessary. Otherwise a minimum wage soon becomes a subminimum wage. Also, As Daryl Moore compassionately complained, the current proposal lacks a sick leave provision. He was outraged by the Council's omission.  

Clearly, if the Council will not do enough to improving the lives of working people, we will do all we can to make better things happen. 

Because the new proposal must be first made public, an official vote, that is, the first of the two mandated readings will have to wait until the June 10th meeting. So we are not yet out of the woods. Moreover, the Committee of ten who will be charged with taking a long range view is worrisome. Kris Worthington and Linda Maio cannot be on it because they are up for election and Max Anderson, who is a highly progressive and articulate council member, will be having back surgery. This is not good news for us and for the working poor. We need to be prepared for the June 3 Council meeting when the committee will be discussed. And the first reading of the new proposed ordinance will be on June 10.  

It will be imperative that we crowd the City Hall room both dates as we did on Tuesday, and also we must continue lobbying the members of the City Council. A wage that exceeds a poverty wage is essential. Also, a minimum wage must be defended by an annual Cost of Living Adjustment. And Daryl Moore is right. Workers have a right to sick leave.