Advocates for increasing the minimum wage said nearly all cities that have increased it have seen corresponding increases in consumer spending that have helped boost the economy overall. Some pointed out that a worker making minimum wage in Berkeley would have to work 63 hours to afford “Berkeley rents.” One speaker said some Berkeley rents have increased $400-$1,000 in the past year, forcing local residents to crowd six to eight tenants into units to afford them.
“The cost of living simply exceeds what a minimum wage job can get you,” Andy Katz told the council. “We need to do better in Berkeley.”
Nicky Gonzalez Yuen told the council about a woman he knows who is working four separate jobs to afford to live in a 60-square-foot room in Berkeley.
“I think it’s time for us to end that system,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to be Berkeley, and not be the followers who tag along.”
Currently, the minimum wage is set at $10, and is scheduled to increase to $11 in October, as per the ordinance adopted by the council last year.
Business owners and their supporters said they are still grappling to get a handle on those increases, as well as a new state law requiring paid sick leave for workers. (See a letter from the Elmwood merchants association outlining some of those concerns.) A representative of Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto said the Labor Commission’s proposed increases would cause many local businesses to close.
“We will not survive. We will close our doors,” he said. “I suspect many other businesses will do the same.”
Dorothée Mitrani, owner of La Note and Café Clem, said she was about to close one of her businesses because of increasing costs related to labor. She asked the council to slow down and analyze the impacts of the existing legislation before forging ahead.
“I can’t survive,” she told the council. “It’s not about not paying people. It’s about allowing us to run our small businesses so we can pay these people.”