Berkeley officials hold off on minimum wage task force

Many Berkeley business owners say they are still concerned about whether they would be able to survive a new minimum wage plan under consideration by the city. Photo: Postcard PR
Many Berkeley business owners say they are still concerned about whether they will be able to survive a new minimum wage plan under consideration by city officials. Photo: Postcard PR

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to postpone the creation of a task force to study changes to the city’s minimum wage ordinance until it actually passes its new law to raise wages, which was approved in concept last month.

That plan would raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $12.53 by October 2016. The proposal must come back twice for council approval before it becomes law.

The proposed task force on the minimum wage could study how the city would proceed after 2016, and look at issues such as sick leave, potential exemptions for certain types of employers and other issues. The panel could also potentially investigate how a regional minimum wage might work and whether the new ordinance needs to be modified.

“It’s not a perfect proposal but I think it’s a needed task force,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who authored the item. “Things are changing so rapidly. Every day you pick up the paper and see a new proposal.”


Read more about the minimum wage proposal in Berkeley.

Bates said Tuesday there is an “excellent chance” the proposed minimum wage ordinance will pass during its preliminary reading June 10. The task force proposal is scheduled to come back July 1.

Business owners have continued to express concern about whether they will be able to survive the proposed wage increase in Berkeley, and have asked the city to slow down and reconsider potential impacts and unintended consequences. Labor advocates, who are already organizing campaigns to lobby for future increases, say the raise is long overdue, and that families can’t keep up with the cost of living under the current pay rate.

Composition of minimum wage task force still up for debate

Bates had initially proposed a nine-member task force composed of three council members, three members of the business community and three labor representatives.

But the makeup of the task force was contested by citizen speakers and officials, who said labor and business advocates would effectively cancel each other out, which would leave final decisions to council members on the panel.


Tuesday night, Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he’d rather see a broader panel — perhaps similar to an effort that took place in Seattle — that would allow for the inclusion of “people across the spectrum.”

“Can we slow this down and look at the Seattle proposal and see what’s taking place up there?” he asked. “It was well thought out and I want us to have the opportunity to look at that.”

That plan, according to the Seattle Times, would bring the hourly minimum wage to $15, and would be phased in over three to seven years depending on the business size and whether workers collect benefits or tips. The wage would be tied to the Consumer Price Index, bringing it to more than $18 an hour by 2025.

Council members Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington said they were worried about a stipulation in the Bates proposal that would prevent council members running for reelection in November from serving on the task force. Worthington said the clause would exclude “progressive” council members, adding that “to ban them from being on [the task force] is very politically discriminatory and small-minded.”

Bates said he was willing to drop that requirement, but no final decision was made Tuesday night.


Worthington said he believed the task force, as proposed, is “simply inviting additional rounds of the roller coaster of confusion, chaos and controversy.” He said, instead, he’d like to see business owners, city officials and labor advocates join forces to lobby the state to increase the minimum wage: “What if we actually did something visionary instead?” he asked.

He and other council members said it would be important to keep an eye on developments at the state level, where a bill just passed in the California Senate that could raise the state minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2017. That legislation goes now to the state Assembly for consideration.

Charles Siler is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. He grew up in the North Bay and now attends Tulane University in New Orleans. Additional reporting for this story was contributed by Emilie Raguso.

Related:
Berkeley minimum wage plan passed, new initiatives loom (05.21.14)
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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