By Dan Brekke and Wendi Jonassen
Update, Wednesday, May 7: The Richmond City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve an ordinance that will lift the minimum wage for most workers to $12.30 an hour by 2017. The ordinance would not cover workers under age 18, those who receive tips or those who work in businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
The current California minimum wage, $8 an hour, is scheduled to rise by a dollar an hour on July 1 under a law passed last year. The Richmond minimum would rise to $9.60 next Jan. 1, $11.52 on Jan. 1, 2016, and $12.30 starting Jan. 1, 2017. Beginning in 2018, Richmond’s minimum wage would incease annually, based on the Consumer Price Index.
As Robert Rogers of the Contra Costa Times reports, the council approved the proposal despite opposition from some local businesses. For example:
Nathan Trivers, who owns the Up & Under Pub in Point Richmond, said the ordinance imperils his business and if forced to pay higher wages to some of his 35 employees, he will either have to lay off workers or face closure.
"I don't know what sword I will have to fall on," Trivers said.
Richmond's move came the same evening that the Berkeley City Council backed away from a proposed ordinance to raise the minimum wage on June 30 to $10.74 an hour— a level that would match San Francisco's current minimum wage — then adjust the wage for inflation in subsequent years. A second proposal, withdrawn during last night's meeting, would have raised the minimum to $10 later this year, and then continued with adjustments that would reportedly bring it to $15.25 by 2020. Instead, the council passed a measure to raise the minimum to $10.75 by July 2016.
Judith Scherr of the Contra Costa Times says that proponents of the more aggressive increase, including members of the city's Labor Commission, criticized the revised proposal:
"They caved in to the business community," Labor Commission Chairman Sam Frankel said as he left the meeting.
"It's a real slap on the face of the Labor Commission that worked on this an entire year," he told the council earlier. That proposal would have raised the minimum wage to $10.74 in June.
But business owners, while acknowledging the need for higher worker pay than the state minimum of $8 per hour ($9 per hour in July), said their businesses could fail with increases mandated in earlier iterations of the ordinance.
"This town is made up of independent businesses," said Dandy Harris, owner of two Telegraph Avenue enterprises, addressing the council. "We bring a lot to the community. I want to be here six years from now. I'm not so afraid of $10.75 an hour, but $15.25 an hour scares the crap out of me."
Many restaurateurs who addressed the council pointed to costs they could not control, such as escalating food costs and rent. Several asked the council to lobby Sacramento for commercial rent control.
The ordinance, which will be up for a second reading on May 20, also calls for further study of the issues. Mayor Tom Bates has proposed that Berkeley get together with other East Bay cities to craft a regional minimum wage to ensure that no city suffers a competitive disadvantage from adopting a higher minimum wage.
Original post: Richmond and Berkeley are the latest Bay Area cities hoping to increase the minimum wage, adding momentum to an issue being debated through California and around the country. Both cities will be considering ordinances at City Council meetings Tuesday night, while San Francisco and Oakland are also floating ballot measures that will raise the minimum wage.
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is pushing for a collaborative effort to establish an East Bay regional minimum wage plan.
"It is really important for us all to be on the same level playing field," Bates told KQED.
Without a uniform regional wage increase, Berkeley Councilman Laurie Capitelli said he worries that small businesses may relocate to cities with lower wage standards.
"If you have radically different proposals adopted, it is going to be confusing and might led to a real distortion of the marketplace," Capitelli said in an interview.
Two approaches to raising Berkeley's minimum wage, currently $8, will be discussed at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Both would eventually tie the city's minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index.
One, drafted by the city's Commission on Labor, would raise the minimum wage to an estimated $12.25 an hour by June 30, 2017.
A second proposal, made by Capitelli, would issue wage increases at a slightly slower rate, hitting $12.25 in January 2018.
Richmond's ordinance would set a minimum wage of $9 an hour effective July 1, in compliance with state law. The wage would rise to $9.60 next Jan. 1, $11.52 on Jan. 1, 2016, and $12.30 starting Jan. 1, 2017. Beginning in 2018, Richmond’s minimum wage would incease annually, based on the Consumer Price Index.
Councilmember Jovanka Beckles initially campaigned to place the minimum wage increase on the November ballot. But shortly after the debate began, the City Council decided to take it off the ballot and make it a local ordinance.
"Why do we have to wait for public election? Why can't the council just adopt it?” Beckles told KQED. “We don't want people to have to wait to have a wage that is sustainable to live on."
Tuesday night, the City Council will discuss a city manager's report that includes a survey of local businesses and their response to the wage proposal. The minimum wage in Richmond is currently $8.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in September 2013 that increases the state minimum wage to $9 per hour starting July 1, and then up to $10 by 2016. A new bill under consideration could increase wages further, to $13 per hour by 2017.
"Everybody agrees the minimum wage needs to be raised,” Bates said. “It is just a question of how much and how fast."