Berkeley council votes to put minimum wage on ballot

The turnout was sparse for Tuesday night's council meeting, which included a vote on the minimum wage. Photo: Mark Coplan
The turnout was sparse for Tuesday night’s council meeting, which included a vote on the minimum wage. Photo: Mark Coplan

A Berkeley City Council majority voted Tuesday night to put an alternative minimum wage proposal on the November 2016 ballot they say will be more moderate than a community measure announced last week.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli — mayoral hopeful — put forward the alternative proposal and asked city staff to come back with a resolution city officials could put on the ballot. Council had been slated to vote to revise the city’s minimum wage ordinance Tuesday night, but instead voted in favor of the substitute motion from Capitelli.

Read more on the minimum wage from Berkeleyside.

The Capitelli proposal would take the minimum wage for all businesses in Berkeley to $15 an hour by October 2019. It is already slated to increase to $12.53 in October of this year. Under the proposed resolution put forward Tuesday night, this would be followed by annual increases each October to $13.25 in 2017 and $14.05 in 2018.


The initiative put forward last week would raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15 by October 2017.

Unlike many prior Berkeley council meetings focused on the minimum wage, the turnout Tuesday night was sparse. A handful of speakers asked council to move faster to help workers, while others asked for more time for small businesses to weigh in and adjust.

Capitelli said his proposal would be responsive to workers as well as the business community.

Council members Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington voted against that proposal.

Arreguín — who is also running for mayor — called the proposal a cynical ploy intended to confuse the voters, who could now see two different minimum wage proposals on the ballot. He and Worthington pointed out that the new schedule gives large businesses more time to get to $15, and small businesses less time.


Mayoral candidates Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín butted heads Tuesday night over the minimum wage proposal. Photos: Mark Coplan
Mayoral candidates Laurie Capitelli and Jesse Arreguín butted heads Tuesday night over the minimum wage proposal. Photos: Mark Coplan

Under the prior proposal, large businesses would have been required to get to $15 by October 2018, and small businesses — with up to 55 employees — by October 2020. According to the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting, the vast majority of businesses in Berkeley — more than 97%, representing about 27,200 workers — have fewer than 55 employees. “Large businesses” employ the other 18,600 workers.

Wednesday, Capitelli noted that the city’s large employers are less likely to be paying the minimum wage, meaning that workers at small businesses are the ones who need the ordinance more. Under his proposal, they would get to $15 an hour sooner than what council had been considering previously.

Worthington said Tuesday night he had already been underwhelmed by the “wimpy, watered-down” proposal in the staff report, adding, of Capitelli’s substitute motion, “I’m a little bit surprised that what we’re presented is actually worse.”

He called Capitelli’s proposal “a race to the bottom” and wondered where it left small businesses. The prior proposal had suggested a two-tiered system with different schedules for large and small businesses. Capitelli said that system had turned out to be too costly and confusing, and Councilwoman Lori Droste said extensive research has shown two-tiered systems to be bad policy.

Supporters of the substitute proposal said they were confused by the criticism. Droste called the single-tiered approach “a huge step forward” and said labor advocates had told her “this would be a huge improvement for workers.”


Councilwoman Linda Maio noted that, in the prior proposal, all Berkeley workers would have gotten to $15 an hour by 2020. Under the Capitelli proposal, if approved by the voters, that would now happen by October 2019.

“I don’t think that’s a step backward at all,” she said.

Maio said putting the item on the ballot “is important because people want to vote for the minimum wage but they also want to know the differences.” She called the community initiative “draconian” and said it “moves too quickly” for small businesses to manage.

Read more on the minimum wage from Berkeleyside. Read more about the 2016 elections.

Related:
Berkeleyans to be asked to accelerate $15 minimum wage (04.21.16)

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Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.com. Twitter: emraguso.