UC Berkeley Students Jump on Board Campaign for $15 Minimum Wage

Protesters march through downtown Oakland in 2014 calling for a $15/hour minimum wage. (Andrew Stelzer/KQED)

Students across the Bay Area are jumping on the nationwide movement for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with a rally and march billed as “The Fight for 15 goes to College" planned for UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza on Wednesday.

UC Berkeley freshman Nancy Romo says she has many friends who work minimum-wage jobs to supplement what they are getting in loans. She herself is looking for jobs for the next academic year, when her financial aid will be reduced.

“Most students will end up working at minimum-wage jobs eventually,” says Romo, who says that even after she graduates the earning prospects will be bleak.

“More and more students graduate college having to go into minimum-wage jobs, while they’re looking for something that matches what their major was.”

California College of the Arts illustration major Emeric Kennard says most students need to take some sort of day job while they pay rent and build their art careers. With more than two years to go before graduation, he’s nervous about the future.

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“If I knew ($15/hour) was a guarantee, I would feel a little better about my ability to survive in the initial months post-graduation. ... And in being able to pay off the debt that I’m going to come out with.”

Bay Area cities like Oakland are in the vanguard, having recently raised their minimum wage above $12 an hour. Emeryville may soon go  to more than $14 an hour. While low-wage worker advocates have cheered the hikes, the increased labor costs have brought difficulties to some businesses.

C.J. Hirschfeld, executive director of the theme park Children’s Fairyland, says Oakland’s recent minimum-wage increase, which took effect on March 2, hit hard. Fairyland has traditionally offered lower-paying summer internships to teens. This summer, they probably won't do that.

“I think we all appreciate the fact that the goal is to increase (the) minimum wage. I would just bring restaurateurs into the discussion. Bring folks that employ student interns into the discussion. I think there might be room for some possible exemptions that folks would understand."

Muriel Sterling, who owns and operates Sterling Child Care in East Oakland, says she’s had to cut back on employee hours and let two families go for whom she was providing transportation.

“When (the wage increase to $12.25/hr) hit us, we were not aware," says Sterling. “It's really hurting. “

Sterling says some providers are saying their businesses may fold because they are not able to make payroll.

“I think it will go back to the way it used to be. Neighbors, family members and people paid under the table. … I think it will come to that.”

‘This is all very new. We're all dealing with it as best we can," says Hirschfeld, of Children’s Fairyland.

But the low-wage workers movement, led by fast-food employees, wants $15 an hour, across California, and across the country.

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“This action’s going to be one of the largest worker actions of our time," says Romo. “It's really exciting.”

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