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.”

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

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  • guest

    While the Berkeley City Council is worrying about trying to get in the national spotlight with a minimum wage hike, meth labs are exploding in West Berkeley.

  • southberkeleyres

    Not the first fire in the area. The crazed man in Aquatic Park who assaulted the police officer recently fits the MO of a meth user. Did he start a fire too? Creepy people in Aquatic Park for drug deals and sexual trysts. Glad for the Frisbee golf guys and dog walkers.
    People’s Park is just as bad.

  • testit

    Restaurants have a solution. They can add a gratuity to the overall bill (and state so on their menus) or they can include the gratuity in the prices of each item. That would mean that the amount the customer pays goes to the restaurant not the waiter. Then the restaurant could have a policy of giving bonuses in excess of the amount of hourly pay collected from the gratuities on the bills. This would set a floor of the new minimum wage for the waiters but still leave open the value of tips in excess of that amount. A good POS (point of sale) system could even track which waiters served which meals and allocate the bonuses accordingly.

    Of course, if a patron left an additional tip, that would be the waiter’s and would not be accounted for in this system. Extra good service, or extra generous patrons, could increase the tips a waiter received.

    I’m not advocating this solution but it seems so obvious that everyone should be aware that it could be done by most any restaurant where tips are given. It would likely only be considered by restaurants where the $2.00 difference is really worth all the trouble.

    If a restaurant has an average of 4 waiters working 12 hours per day, 7 days per week, that’s 336 hours per week. So the difference for such a restaurant would be about $35,000 per year in wages, plus statutory benefits. Perhaps some restaurant owners would go to the trouble of keeping this money.

  • David

    I am embarrassed by the meager increase in the minimum wage. More study of the issue by a task force? Please.
    One observation in the article is the pressure commercial rents put on restaurant owners and other business owners. Fair enough. The solution is NOT minimum wage at an unlivable rate so that restaurant owners can pay the landlords. How about a truly significant increase to the minimum wage so that both restaurant owners and landlords are required to consider workers’ wages when negotiating rent? The notion (now law) that we keep minimum wage anywhere near $10 per hour so that restaurant owner can pay landlords is ridiculous.

  • Expectorating Resident

    I’m thrilled that the labor commission got a slap in the face. Let’s just end the stupid commissions already. This stuff isn’t that complicated.

  • dizzyfromhotair

    Wow, that was a LOT of angry rhetoric.

  • bgal4

    hardly…. try a reality check.

  • DisGuested


  • John Freeman

    The funny part about the idea of turning tips into a service charge is that at the meeting, Wozniak asked the city attorney if it was legally viable to make it mandatory.

  • p

    Forced service charge or gratuity charge on the customer check, is not viable for a simple reason. This is treated as income to the restaurant by IRS and is taxed as such. It is then taxed a second time, as income to the receiving server. Secondly is is important to understand that a restauranteurs hands are also tied by a supreme court decision, that the cooks and dishwashers ‘are not part of the chain of service as pertains to gratuities’- i.e. a restaurant may not not force a server to share gratuities with the back of the house.

  • Can’t escape math

    Spoken like someone that has never signed a paycheck.

  • guest

    The Commissions aren’t stupid but they are expensive, take a lot of staff time, but sometimes comes up with good ideas. The best thing about the commissions is that they provide a forum for public concerns that can be funneled to the Council.