Public Comment

New: Berkeley Minimum Wage Victory— and Beyond

Harry Brill
Saturday July 19, 2014 - 01:53:00 PM

On Monday, July 14, the East Bay Tax the Rich group had a well attended celebration for achieving along with many other organizations and activist individuals a minimum wage ordinance for workers employed in Berkeley. Although it was initially opposed by a majority on the Berkeley City Council, it was finally enacted by a unanimous vote. This victory demonstrates what many of us already know, which is the enormous advantage of mass, militant organizing.

At least 8500 low wage employees who work in Berkeley will enjoy a better standard of living. They will receive a minimum of $10 an hour beginning in October of this year. Their income will then increase the following year to $11 an hour, and in 2016 their earnings will rise to $12.53 an hour.

Let us take a look at what this means to these workers. A waitress who works 30 hours a week at a very popular Berkeley restaurant told me that she is earning $8 an hour. The 25 percent wage hike to $10 an hour will yield her an additional income of $3000 for the year. In 2016, when her wages increase to $12.53, her weekly income will increase by $135.90. Her annual income will climb to about $6,700 more. 

Although we are all proud of the victory, we are certainly not satisfied. Now that we won the first round, we will shortly prepare for the next one. Working people deserve even higher wages and an annual cost of living adjustment. They are also entitled to a paid vacation. Especially important, they must obtain paid sick leave. This is not just a labor issue. It is also a public health issue. Too many people who eat out are subjected to the risks of contracting serious infectious diseases because sick employees cannot afford to miss work. Co-workers of sick employees in any industry are also at risk for the same reason. 

But we also know that good laws are not enough. Workers have to be informed, and of course the law must be enforced. So we have organized what we call a COURIER OF JOY CAMPAIGN. The reason for this phrase is that we have been very impressed so far with how elated many workers become when they learn about the good news. We are asking people to drop by workplaces and anywhere else that low wage Berkeley workers gather to hand out leaflets detailing the wage increases. We also intend to keep a watchful eye on the City’s Department of Finance or any other department that is responsible for its enforcement. 

We have no intention of submitting to a culture of low expectations.