Public Comment

Berkeley City Council Shifts Right

Harry Brill
Thursday December 03, 2015 - 04:33:00 PM

On November 10, The Berkeley City Council voted to reject a minimum wage proposal that was submitted to it by its own Labor Commission. All those who serve on the Commission are appointed by City Council members. To the disappointment of the Commission and the more than 100 labor and community people who attended that meeting at Longfellow School, the Council recommended instead a very diluted minimum wage package. Most of the council members have convinced themselves that paying workers a wage that exceeds the poverty level is a bad thing for small business and the economy. 

Only Jesse Arreguin, who is running for mayor next year, and Max Anderson voted to support the Labor Commission’s recommendations. Regrettably, Laurie Capitelli, who is also running for Mayor in 2016, voted against the progressive recommendations of the Labor Commission.  

The Council should be paying attention to the evidence of how higher wages stimulates rather than depresses economic activity. For example, the majority of the Council is ignoring how the recent drop in unemployment in Oakland is related to the impact of the city’s minimum wage law.  

The Berkeley City Council has taken the long road to the political right. In the year 2000, when the living wage ordinance was passed, Its purpose according to Council's Finance Department was to “insure that businesses in a contractual relationship with the City pay their employees a wage that can support a family at, or above, the poverty level”. But most members of the current council refused to take the next step recommended by its Labor Commission. They opposed the proposal to extend the living wage obligation to all private employers. 

Also disappointing was the Council’s refusal to enact the Labor Commission’s paid sick leave recommendation. San Francisco provides paid sick. So does Oakland and Emeryville. Paid sick leave does not only protect low wage workers, who often feel compelled to go to work because they cannot afford to lose pay. It also protects co-workers from exposure as well as customers at restaurants who could become ill from eating food prepared by sick cooks and served by contagious waitresses and waiters. 

If you have been sick recently, could your contact with a contagious workers been the cause? And shouldn’t Berkeley voters expect that the Berkeley City Council will attempt to protect the well being of the public? 

However, reacting to the enormous pressure to increase the minimum wage, the Council approved a $15 an hour wage. But claiming that it wants to protect “small businesses”, the effective date is not until 2020. Sounds reasonable. However, since the Council defines small business as establishments that employ up to 55 full time employees, more than 90 percent of the City’s businesses escape an earlier obligation. 

In San Francisco the $15 hourly wage will be reached in 2018, which is two years earlier than in Berkeley. Emeryville also adopted a minimum wage ordinance that will provide minimum wage workers $15 an hour in 2018. El Cerrito just passed a minimum wage law that increases the legal minimum to $15 an hour by 2019. 

The Berkeley City Council should be ashamed of itself for putting poverty wage workers at the bottom of the list. 

It is not too late for us to do something about it. The minimum wage issue will be voted on sometime early next year. Demand better and fairer compensation for our poverty wage workers. Also demand that the Berkeley City Council adopt a paid sick leave ordinance. If you have the will and energy, please write them often until they see the light. 

The following email address will reach all members of the Berkeley City Council including Mayor Bates: