Public Comment

Minimum Wage Increase Hissed and Dissed at Spenger’s

Carol Denney
Friday November 06, 2015 - 01:32:00 PM

A few dozen merchants, Downtown Berkeley Association staff, and three council representatives met Wednesday, November 5th in Spenger’s back room to strategize against a proposed increase in the minimum wage on the City Council agenda Tuesday, November 10th, 2015. 

District 6 Councilmember Susan Wengraf, District 5 Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, and District 4 Councilmember Jesse Arreguin telegraphed their willingness to vote down or weaken the proposed legislation as a burden on local businesses, which see the wage increase as, as one merchant put it, “friendly fire.” 

No one in the room expressed support for raising the minimum wage, which according to the Economic Policy Institute has been stagnant over the last 35 years, lagging “far behind economy-wide productivity.” The failure of wages to grow and rising wage inequality is the primary explanation for the rise of family income stagnation and income inequality.[1] 

The merchants stated that they “were not informed” when the issue came before the Labor Commission, which formulated the proposal, and plan to organize to present personal stories of the hardship raising the minimum wage will be on their businesses to the City Council November 10th stating repeatedly that they will be tempted to close their businesses. 

Many iconic Berkeley businesses, such as Edy’s restaurant and Tupper and Reed music store have closed their doors over the years. But the minimum wage was not the issue raised; rising rents commercial leases were, issues which were not introduced at the Spenger’s meeting.  

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor, expressed support for re-defining the current definition of small businesses to include those with as many as 57 employees, which would exempt an enormous ratio of Berkeley employees. 

[1] Steven Balsam, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz, of The Economic Policy Institute. More specifically: 

Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz, The State of Working America, 12th Edition, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012. 

Steven Balsam, Taxes and Executive Compensation, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #344, August 14, 2012. 

Josh Bivens and Lawrence Mishel, “The Pay of Corporate Executives and Financial Professionals as Evidence of Rents in Top 1 Percent Incomes,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 27, no. 3, summer 2013, pp. 57–78. 

Josh Bivens, Using Standard Models to Benchmark the Costs of Globalization for American Workers Without a College Degree, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #354, March 22, 2013.