Opinion: The old City Council majority did not embrace raising the minimum wage; they fought it

Lori Droste made an attempt to lower the rate and postpone the increases which is why the authors support Mary Kay Lacey for District 8.

We were shocked to see the Oct. 1 opinion piece “celebrating” the $15 minimum wage signed by Tom Bates, Linda Maio, Susan Wengraf, Lori Droste, Laurie Capitelli and Darryl Moore – City Council members who all voted to delay and block this increase. Their article re-writes history in a way that is unacceptable to the community leaders who fought hard and are still fighting to bring the minimum wage up to Berkeley’s official Living Wage standard.

In this election season, it’s important to clarify the roles that these elected officials really played – especially Lori Droste (currently up for re-election) who sponsored a measure to delay and restrict minimum wage increases.

Lori Droste made one attempt to lower the rate and postpone the increases, before ultimately voting in favor. We know because we were among the “community advocates and labor leaders” who pushed for measures to raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to the city’s Living Wage standard.

There is a legislative record which is objective. For example, on Sept. 15, 2015, Droste abstained from a vote to raise the minimum wage to $15. Together with the other abstentions, this killed the measure. She can claim she didn’t oppose it, but her lack of support caused it to fail. In Nov. 2015, she voted in favor of a weaker measure which would have delayed the $15 wage until 2020.

Due to the opposition of Droste and the other signers of the Oct 1st op-ed, our community coalition had to introduce a ballot measure. After a great community effort –months of door-knocking and tabling throughout the city – the ballot measure was qualified. And what was the response of Droste et al.? They did what every smart political operative knows – the best way to defeat a popular ballot measure is to introduce a competing and confusing ballot measure. So they quickly drew up one that was designed to cancel out the community-backed measure and would have prevented the minimum wage from ever catching up to Berkeley’s official living wage. Among other things, it required a 2/3 vote for any further minimum wage increases.

To avoid further delays to a desperately needed increase in the minimum wage we agreed to the compromise that is now the law in Berkeley.  (The minimum wage went to $15 on Oct 1). So the fight still continues to guarantee a Living Wage for all Berkeley workers,

We want to recognize the real heroes of this struggle: progressive City Council members Jesse Arreguín, Max Anderson and Kris Worthington, many community leaders, the Berkeley Commission on Labor (a city government organization), students and student groups from Cal and BCC, and unions and popular organizations including SEIU Local 1021 (representing city workers), Raise the Wage East Bay, Fight for 15, UNITE HERE, the Alameda County Labor Council, and many others.

From the perspective of minimum wage and workers’ and their advocates, Lori Droste was not an ally in this process and she is still standing in the way. That’s why those same organizations who fought for the minimum wage increase (Alameda Labor Council, SEIU 1021, California Nurses’ Association and others) have all endorsed her opponent, Mary Kay Lacey.

Editor’s note: This piece was updated to correct some errors, including the statement that Droste voted against the minimum wage many times. She did abstain on one vote on Sept. 10, 2015.

Wendy Bloom is the vice chair of the Berkeley Commission on Labor. Steve Gilbert is with SEIU Local 1021. Joshua Sperry is a delegate to Alameda County Labor Council. David Fielder is a community activist and Angus Teter is a former member of Berkeley Commission on Labor.