Berkeley council boosts minimum wage, approves task force to look deeper

Dozens of community members spoke out about an increased minimum wage Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Dozens of community members spoke out about an increased minimum wage Tuesday night. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday night to increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.75 by January 2016, and to appoint a task force to look at future increases for the city beyond that.

Council members listened to hours of public comment, including requests from numerous people for the council to stick with a plan described last week that would have seen an increase by 2020 to $15.25. But council members said they were concerned that local businesses had not had a chance to learn about that proposal or weigh in about alternatives.

Many Berkeley business owners — including a strong showing from some of the city’s most popular restaurants — said they feared they would not be able to handle the increases outlined in that earlier proposal, and that they had only recently learned of the city’s plans.

Workers who spoke passionately about the need for the increase Tuesday night said better wages are decades past due, and that many families are suffering as a result of unrealistic pay rates. Several suggested that the real problem is rising commercial rents, and asked what the city might do to address that.


The city’s Labor Commission studied the minimum wage issue for more than a year to come up with its own proposal. During that time, commission members said they listened to all perspectives and had tried to have a dialogue with the city’s business community. But commission members said the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce ultimately asked that a labor commissioner stop attending chamber meetings about the minimum wage.

Some council members said they were concerned the process had not been inclusive enough.

Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said her appointee to the Labor Commission, a local business owner, had ultimately resigned from the panel last winter, saying its members were not open to his perspective.

“He said, ‘I can’t stay on there anymore. Nobody will listen to me,'” she said Tuesday night. “He felt the commission as a whole was really not interested in hearing the concerns of restaurant owners.”

Under the new ordinance, which was adopted on first reading, the city’s minimum wage would increase in July to $9 due to state legislation, then to $10 in January under the city’s new law. The following January it would increase to $10.75.

The city attorney told council members Tuesday night that it would be illegal to exclude tipped workers from the program, which appeared to be a relief for many workers and advocates for the cause in attendance.

The adopted plan will also establish a task force of 10 members that will review the current ordinance and come up with a plan moving forward. The task force would include council members Laurie Capitelli, Jesse Arreguín, Linda Maio and Darryl Moore, along with three members of the business community appointed by Mayor Tom Bates, and two appointees selected by the Labor Commission as well as commission chair Sam Frankel.

Councilman Gordon Wozniak entered the lone dissenting vote about the new ordinance.

Members of the Labor Commission expressed frustration that the city had not adopted its recommendations, said they had held more than two dozen public meetings to which all were welcome, and called the creation of a new task force a “slap in the face.”

“The commission did listen to all sides,” said chairman Sam Frankel. “We’re tired of not moving forward.”

City officials said they wanted to be sensitive to the needs of workers, as well as local business owners.

“I think we have a very delicate balance that we have to watch here,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “Most of us love living in this community. It’s the small shops that are suffering now.”

Related:
Op-ed: No tip penalty — one fair minimum wage for all (05.05.14)
Berkeley could OK raised minimum wage plan this month (05.02.14)
Berkeley Mayor proposes East Bay minimum wage (04.22.14)
Berkeley Council hears minimum wage increase pleas (04.03.14)
Minimum wage ‘tip credit’ idea gets cold shoulder (06.21.13)
Berkeley considers city-wide minimum wage hike
 (06.18.13)

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