Berkeley sets new minimum wage; up to $12.53 by 2016

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 at a recent council meeting in Berkeley (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso

The Berkeley City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to officially adopt the city’s new minimum wage ordinance, setting hourly pay on a course to reach $12.53 by October 2016.

The city’s new law will raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $10 per hour this October, then to $11 after one year. A statewide increase to $9 per hour takes effect July 1.

The journey to reach a consensus on the new law has been far from straightforward. After a lengthy review dating back to last summer by the city’s Labor Commission, council has struggled since April over how to structure its minimum wage plan.

Read previous coverage of the minimum wage debate in Berkeley.

Council initially pledged to adopt a more aggressive increase, but backed off from that proposal after members of the local business community said it moved too fast and might lead to layoffs or closures.

Tuesday night, council approved the new minimum wage ordinance as part of its consent calendar. Little was said about the issue by council members or the public.

“Congratulations,” said Bates, who smiled after the vote. “We have a minimum wage in Berkeley. The second reading has been accomplished.”

Members of the public clapped loudly in support after his announcement.

Bates noted that, after three lengthy public hearings on the minimum wage, council voted unanimously to approve the new ordinance during its first and second readings.

Several council members said, last month, they wished the plan went further. And, beyond the dais, the law also has numerous critics among both business owners and labor advocates. Business owners have expressed concerns about whether they will be able to survive the increase, while labor advocates have said the plan doesn’t go far enough.

Labor advocates have said that a plan to get to $15 an hour, with an annual cost of living adjustment, and paid vacation and sick leave, would be more fair to workers.

But, despite the criticisms, a least some advocates expressed optimism this week about the vote.

“We finally won!” wrote Harry Brill in an opinion piece on Wednesday. Brill identified himself as one of the organizers of the campaign to increase the minimum wage in Berkeley. “Although it is certainly not a living wage, it will be among the highest in the nation.”

Business community still nervous

Meanwhile, members of the business community who are worried about how they will fare under the new law recently formed a group called the Berkeley Small Business Alliance and spoke out about the plan.

“It is simply raising the bar too far, too fast,” members of the group wrote in an op-ed on Berkeleyside. “This proposal as it stands may have too many unintended consequences. Berkeley’s small businesses may not have time to course correct. Many small businesses whose major competitors are online retailers cannot raise prices and will be forced to move to another city or close entirely.”

The group has taken issue with Berkeley’s process to this point, said the new law will cost the city too much, criticized the lack of existing data about how the law will impact local businesses, and more. Earlier this month, its members asked the city to first conduct a study to learn more about the local business climate before voting on the new law, but that campaign was unsuccessful.

The group does not identify its members, which has drawn criticism from other local community members. Representatives from the group said they took that approach as a protective measure. After early meetings when business owners of popular book shops and restaurants spoke out candidly about their worries, many said they were then targeted as anti-labor for raising questions.

A broader context

Berkeley’s effort to raise the minimum wage is among many similar undertakings around the state and country. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, which many say is much too low and has been been essentially flat for decades. According to USA Today, “a handful of cities, and nearly two dozen states” have taken on the challenge to increase wages rather than wait for a decision at the federal level.

California is one of those states, with the July increase to $9 and another increase, to $10 in 2016, already scheduled. It is the first time the state minimum wage is set to go up in six years, according to media reports. Further hikes have met with resistance, however. A California Assembly panel narrowly rejected a bill Wednesday that aimed to raise the state’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2017.

San Jose raised its minimum wage to $10 in 2013, then to $10.15 in January. Richmond has adopted a plan to get to $12.30 by 2017. And San Francisco and Oakland are both hammering out their own proposals, which are set to go before voters in November. San Francisco already has the highest minimum wage in the nation, according to NBC, at $10.74 an hour.

Task force decision coming up

In Berkeley, too, the discussion is far from over. At its July 1 meeting, council plans to consider the creation of a task force to review the minimum wage ordinance. The group could study how the city might proceed after 2016, and look at issues such as sick leave, potential exemptions for certain types of employers and other complexities.

The panel could also potentially investigate how a regional minimum wage might work and whether the new ordinance needs to be modified. East Bay mayors are working together on a proposal from Mayor Tom Bates to adopt a minimum wage of $12.82 per hour by 2017.

Based on past comments by city officials, exactly how Berkeley’s task force will work, and what it will look like, may be up for debate.

At its June 3 meeting, council members Laurie Capitelli, Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington raised issues with the language of Mayor Tom Bates’ proposal for the endeavor.

Capitelli, along with members of the public, said he would like to see a larger group than what was proposed as a nine-person panel to bring in a broader range of perspectives and avoid a head-to-head battle between the most entrenched viewpoints.

Arreguín and Worthington said a clause of the proposal that would prohibit council members running for reelection from joining the task force would exclude what they described as the body’s most progressive voices.

Bates said he would be happy to reconsider both of those issues during future discussion about the group’s creation. His staff report for the July 1 meeting has not, however, been updated to reflect any changes.

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

Berkeley officials hold off on minimum wage task force (06.04.14)
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

Get the latest Berkeley news in your inbox with Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing. And make sure to bookmark Berkeleyside’s pages on Facebook and Twitter. You don’t need an account on those sites to view the posts.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • guest

    So what? How many apartments can you find in Atherton in that price range?

  • Guest

    It really sucks that I can’t afford to live in one of the greatest places on earth with no skills. It’s just not fair.

  • Realist

    Then do like I did….two years in the army, live in a converted garage, forego getting f—d up, work a custodial job at the OLD minimum wage while getting your M.A. and a decent paying job that compensates for your skill instead of having to demand a b–s– “minimum wage” just because you do something a 14 year old can learn and do, …..then come back to me.

  • Alan Porter

    Oh.. complaining about high rents? Then why doesnt the City of Berkeley have a more aggressive rent control? WHY are they making up the difference on the backs of local small businesses. People in support of a higher minimum wage don’t get it. there are so many dollars that can go to payroll… so if you increase payroll, fewer people will be hired. incoming higher unemployment. good job.

  • guest

    Actually Atherton has 3 listings today for 1br apts <= 1400.

    Adorable place available at once $1400 / 1br – 925ft² – (atherton) pic
    Rental home in Quiet Neighborhood Renting Now* $1175 / 1br – 975ft² – (atherton) pic
    Unit with spacious walk in closets is available! $1375 / 1br – 950ft² – (atherton) pic

    In contrast, while I was biking around Berkeley today I saw ads for studios for 1700

  • Guest

    Im Pretty sure rent control is not the solution either. That’s just shifting the burden of having to live in a world where the economics of supply and demand are inescapable from employers to landlords. Neither is fair. Want a high wage so you can live in a great place? You could try improving your skills and knowledge base. I know that living in reality is a radical concept, but I am afraid it is the only sustainable way to go.

  • guest

    I love how it suddenly goes from only listings $1,000 or under in Berkeley to any listings under $1,400 for Atherton.

    17 1bdr units in Berkeley in that price range, a lot more when you include studio apartments.

    Your selective editing is pretty embarrassingly obvious.

  • Chris J

    Problem is, a lot of folks have advanced degrees and are still unable to find work. A degree, advanced or otherwise, is not a panacea to the situation. My brother in law earns $60k a year and lives in an illegal housing unit with no kitchen and is paying $1200/month. He and his boyfriend who is on a fixed income can barely afford to live in the city. When an income of $60k isn’t enough to live in SF, there is something screwy.

  • guest

    Alternatively, they simply can’t afford to live in the city. I want to live in Tibuon, but I can’t afford to. So I don’t live there.

  • guest

    You accounting is not right. Your query for 1400 and under in Berkeley currently retrieves 15 listings. 1 is a new 2 br downtown with no price, and 4 are repeats of a room in a shared suite of 4, which would more properply be called a 5000/ month apt.

    Downtown Berkeley 2 bed/1 bath Apartment For Rent! 2br – (berkeley) pic

    College Ave top-floor 1-bedroom unit, 4 blocks to UCB, own parking $1400 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map

    Great Solano Ave Location 1BR Apartment Available OPEN HOUSE ON WED!! $1250 / 1br – (berkeley north / hills) pic map

    Gorgeous apartment with street view $1300 / 1br – 300ft² – (berkeley) pic map

    Studio Apartment in Downtown Berkeley BART & UCB 1 Block Away $1250 / 1br – 450ft² – (berkeley) pic map

    BRAND NEW BUILDING ONE BLOCK FROM CAL GYM $1250 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map

    Large one Bedroom $1355 / 1br – 650ft² – (berkeley north / hills) pic map

    4 private bedrooms in a shared suite $1250 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map

    Junior 1 bedroom Apartment in Berkeley $1350 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map

    $1200 NEAR ASHBY BART – QUIET OFF STREET TWO BDR NO PETS $1200 / 2br – (berkeley) pic map

    Lovely walkup with NEW Carpet/blinds/kit. counter. By APPT. $1295 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map

    1br/Studio 450 sq ft $1000 / 1br – 450ft² – (berkeley)

    BRAND NEW BUILDING OPEN HOUSE ONE BLOCK FROM CAL GYM $1250 / 1br – (berkeley) pic map


  • Realist

    A degree in Mayan Studies perhaps….but if one has minimal ability to look beyond their nose (crystal ball anyone ?), they might have a glimmer that it takes real money to live……or someone else’s…..

  • guest

    People who have had a hard life sometimes become cynical and callous and want everyone to have as hard a life as they had.

    I notice that there is nothing in your post about whether a higher minimum wage is good or bad social policy. Do you know that the United States has the most inequality of any industrial nation? Do you realize that the minimum wage has to increase just to keep up with inflation?

    Instead of talking about social policy, you just say that you want people who earn the minimum wage to suffer as much as you suffered – or to keep earning a minimum wage that loses value to inflation every year. Sad.

  • Realist

    “Suffer” appears nowhere….. except in your post. I went without immediate gratification….and did not mention that I went into teaching. I taught first and second grade in my community for thirty years, was United Way Chairman, and support three Dominican kids I’ve never met through World Vision…so those years I spent “suffering” allowed diminishment of a heck of alot of “suffering” that would otherwise occur. So please say again that I “want (!?!) “people” to “suffer”…….

  • Chris J

    That’s a pretty American view–put the onus of survival on the individual and make it his or her responsibility to survive. Which ultimately is true, but then, we humans are a social group as well which survived by helping each other out, whether by personal or political means.

    Not all folks who can’t afford to life in Berkeley are ne’er-do-wells or societal parasites. Hell, when I bought my home here in 1994 it was with a wife and kid with An extra income. Bought for $210k. Same home today would be $600k which…might be manageable, but the property taxes of roughly $375 each month would be over $1000. Our combined income is over $100k and it would be really difficult to afford to buy here. We are both college graduates, etc.

  • The Gipper

    Businesses will raise the price of their goods and services to off set increased costs. It will now cost more to live in Berkeley and those who tend to use more goods in services in the area will be paying for it. They will have the choice to spend their money in other towns (resulting in higher unemployment locally) or spend more of there money getting less product effectively making minimum wage raise a wash. The only class that is hurt by doing this is the middle class effectively spreading the gap between middle & upper. Entry level employees can do less and get paid more as the American Dream dies and we join hands with Denmark and reward the under performer.