Berkeley minimum wage plan passed, new initiatives loom

Labor advocates and other supporters of a $15 minimum wage attended Tuesday night's council meeting in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Labor advocates and other supporters of a $15 minimum wage attended Tuesday night’s council meeting in Berkeley. Photo: Emilie Raguso

In a third change of course this month, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to bring the city’s minimum wage up to $12.53 by October 2016, and will look at creating a task force in June to study further increases.

Council agreed unanimously to approve, in part, a proposal from Mayor Tom Bates to increase the minimum wage to $10 in October, $11 in October 2015 and $12.53 in October 2016, at which point it would match Oakland’s pay rate. Non-profit organizations would be exempt from the increase for one year, and non-profit- and government-related youth job training programs would be exempt permanently.

But labor advocates, who say the plan doesn’t go far enough, are gearing up to push new ballot initiatives that would, if approved by voters, set the minimum wage at $15 by 2017.

The “Bates proposal” was passed out to officials and meeting attendees alike Tuesday night. But comments from some members of the public indicated the mayor’s office had been in conversation with some stakeholders about the concept before the meeting. It was not, however, part of the published agenda.


The document included annual increases of 4-5% from 2016 through 2021, when it would hit $15.50, but council did not vote on wages past 2016. As part of Councilman Laurie Capitelli’s motion to adopt the wage changes through 2016 — which ultimately was approved — he revised the 2015 rate downward to $11 from the $11.20 listed on the Bates chart.

On June 3, council plans to consider the creation of a task force to look at future increases, as well other issues that have come up related to sick leave, home health care workers and other concerns.

The "Bates proposal" was discussed extensively Tuesday night. Chart: Mayor Tom Bates' office
The “Bates proposal” was discussed extensively Tuesday night. Chart: Mayor Tom Bates’ office

Many supporters of the $15 minimum wage movement attended Tuesday night’s meeting, and expressed frustration that Berkeley isn’t moving faster or more aggressively toward that goal. Speakers accused city officials of reneging on past promises, using “bait and switch” tactics, and setting small business owners against labor interests.

Many said they had been disappointed by the abandonment of a proposal introduced by Capitelli on May 1 that would have brought the minimum wage to around $15 by 2020. He told attendees at the May 6 council meeting that he was not comfortable moving forward with that concept.

Council members Darryl Moore, Kriss Worthington and Max Anderson all proposed increases that would have extended wage increases past 2016. Councilman Jesse Arreguín voted in line with those officials, but the five other council members abstained or voted “no,” so their motions failed.

Tuesday night, the council majority expressed firm support for an increased minimum wage. But officials also said they are sympathetic to the financial struggles faced by small business owners and don’t want to create a policy that would drive them out of operation.

Ultimately, council voted unanimously for Capitelli’s adjusted version of the Bates proposal through 2016.

“Half a loaf is better than none,” said Worthington, when he cast his “yes” vote. Moore said he made his vote “begrudgingly,” and Arreguín added “unfortunately” to his vote of support.

Mayor Tom Bates said he believes the ordinance is a solid start: “We have a three-year program. It’s not like we have swiss cheese.”

Community initiative campaigns gear up to push further

Despite the unanimous vote Tuesday night, the city’s plans are not yet set in stone. The ordinance will likely come back for its preliminary vote June 10, and would return for its final vote at a later time.

In the meantime, a group calling itself “Berkeley Citizens for a Fair Minimum Wage” is planning to collect signatures to establish a $15 minimum wage in the city by January 2017, to include annual CPI-adjusted raises and paid sick leave.

Organizers for that effort include two former Berkeley City Council members — Carla Woodworth and Ying Lee — along with Berkeley residents Margot Smith, Marty Schiffenbauer and David Fielder.

In a statement about their efforts, they said they believe the wage council adopted is “woefully inadequate for the needs of working people.” They submitted their intention to the city clerk last Thursday to collect signatures.

Fielder, reached after publication Wednesday, explained that there are three groups currently working on raising the minimum wage beyond the council’s efforts. At this point, the groups are not working together directly, though their interests are similar. He said none of them intend to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot, but that plans are in the works for future elections.

According to an email to the Berkeley Wellstone Club regarding a related but separate campaign, the SEIU 1021 labor union also plans to help drive an effort to increase the minimum wage to $15.

“This failure of the City Council to act in a responsible way has changed the dynamics of the process,” wrote club member Jack Kurzweil. “Under pressure from its unions, San Francisco had adopted a good minimum wage ordinance some years ago and is currently negotiating some improvements. Berkeley’s failure resulted in the political undercutting of the San Francisco efforts and gave the SF unions a very important stake in the outcome in Berkeley. Their response is to finance an initiative campaign in Berkeley….”

Tuesday night, a third group — Raise the Wage East Bay — announced a meeting for its own minimum wage organizing efforts, to take place in the Berkeley City College basement at 6:30 p.m. on May 29.

[Editor’s Note: This article was updated after publication to clarify the various minimum wage efforts underway by citizens’ groups.]

Related:
Berkeley council boosts minimum wage, approves task force to look deeper (05.07.14)
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)
Op-Ed: As a restaurant owner I question minimum wage process (07.02.13)
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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