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.

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

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  • > the Bates proposal… would prevent council members running for reelection in November from serving on the task force

    Why not take it a step or two further, Mayor Bates?

    Only wealthy hermits should be allowed on the commission. Because we wouldn’t want working people to have any influence whatsoever over their own fate.

    Surprise surprise, the guy who cheated and broke the law in his first mayoral campaign still hates democratic oversight. Bates is an aristocrat.

  • Offended_Aristocrat

    “Bates is an aristocrat.”

    Actually, Reginald, he most assuredly is NOT.

  • Seattle bested us..$15/hour living wage!

  • strunk

    What’s with the “progressive”? These councilmembers are progressive. Others may claim to be, but no one claims these two aren’t. Lose the ironic quotes if you want to be a good writer.

  • emraguso

    They’re not ironic. I used quotes because I wanted to attribute it to him. Certainly a lot of questions have been raised, and there’s quite a bit of emotion, about what it means to be progressive in Berkeley, and it wasn’t the goal of this story to try to hash that out. Instead, we’re using the standard journalistic practice of attribution. If you’re seeing irony in that, you might want to question your own assumptions.

  • confused

    What’s the point of forming a task force after the vote has passed? I thought part of the mission of a task force was to help figure out if raising the minimum wage is a good idea or not? Maybe I am missing something here, but this seems a little backwards to me…

  • emraguso

    It’s my understanding that they wanted to have some kind of plan in place. But then they’re going to keep looking into a number of aspects via the task force — those noted in the story and other issues — to see if they need to revise the ordinance and also, potentially, extend it further out into the future.

  • guest

    I don’t think the hills dwellers would like that one too much.

  • guest

    Arreguin and Worthington aren’t progressive, in my book, since they stand against most real progress in Berkeley and have very conservative opinions about land use and every topic outside the realm of superficial social justice.

  • guest

    Washington also doesn’t have personal income tax.
    Amazing how they’re able to keep things so nice without taxing their residents into the poorhouse.

  • confused

    I am not against minimum wage and
    this has nothing to do with what you call “justice”. I should have
    made it clearer, but I am simply saying that in order to make an informed
    decision on something all aspects of it should be looked at. I think it would be
    more beneficial if the task force was formed before the vote so revisions to
    the ordinance can be made prior to the vote. These revisions can impact the way
    people vote. It would probably be easier in the end to try to get the ordinance
    as close to “working” as possible.

    Additionally, the employer/employee relationship in a lot of business is give
    and take for many small businesses. I think sometimes people forget that if we
    put businesses out it means less job and no more paychecks for the people who
    were working there. A lot of businesses try to do right by their employees but
    simply can’t afford to pay them more. I barely get paid over minimum wage, but
    I would like to keep the job I have. I just think people need to step back and
    look at the big picture instead of rushing into a decision because the say
    “oh look I get more money”. Maybe some changes need to be made
    beforehand that would benefit both employers and employees. I am not against
    minimum wage at all and think it is great that California has already passed
    minimum wage increases…. we just need to look at the whole picture before we
    make a decision. An educated decision is usually a better decision.

  • Duh

    They don’t want to discover any truths about how harmful imposing an artificial floor to wages will be. It’s much easier to remain an ideologue when your head is in the sand.

    They keep trying to expand the size of the ship that they bring down with us. First ot was surrounding east bay towns, now the whole state!

  • God

    Jealousy is really ugly.

  • Pikketyistoxic

    you know all those things that you like? Someone had to invent them and then deliver them to you at a profit in order for you to have them. This is the way people get rich – serving the needs and wants of their fellow human beings. This pikkety garbage is toxic. It’s the kind of utter nonsense that can only come from a bitter jealous academic looking to achieve power and wealth the easy way – providing intellectual cover to statist fools looking to steal more from the productive class. It’s disgusting. I’m not a wealthy fella, just have my eyes open to reality.