Berkeley’s City Council rejected proposals last Tuesday evening (September 15) to raise the city’s minimum wage – even to as little as $13/hour in late 2016, and refused to discuss a Labor Commission proposal included on the council’s meeting agenda to reach a $19/hour minimum by 2020. The city was content to allow wages as low as California’s state minimum of $9/hour until October 2014, when Berkeley’s minimum wage rose to $10/hour. It rises again to $11/hour on October 1, while minimum wages in neighboring San Francisco, Oakland, and Emeryville are already $12.25/hour.
“The main objective of [raising the minimum wage to $19/hour] is to eliminate the Working Poverty Gap, which is the shortfall in basic goods and necessities for a full-time worker,” explained Labor Commission member Angus Teter at the meeting. “Until our minimum wage is aligned with the cost of living… Berkeley’s workers will continue to suffer in poverty.”
About two-thirds of the nearly 50 public speakers supported a minimum wage hike, most specifically demanding the $19/hour Living Wage recommended by the Labor Commission. Those in opposition to higher wages were business owners and representatives of their special interest group, the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, who claimed that Living Wages will force businesses to shut down or relocate to neighboring cities that allow greater exploitation of workers.
“I’m all for raising the minimum wage,” said Mayor Tom Bates. “But we have to realize that we need the businesses to stay in business in order to pay these wages.”
Immediately after public comments, Mayor Bates tried to delay any further council discussion until a meeting on November 10, on the pretext that council member Laurie Capitelli suddenly had to leave. Bates adjourned the meeting by 11:30 pm, after failing to block a substitute motion by council member Kriss Worthington to raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15/hour by October 2018 and “create a process and plan for an orderly transition for the Living Wage to be the City of Berkeley’s Minimum Wage.”
“Capitelli was trying to race out early, and the Mayor was conspiring with him to vote on his motion and not on any substitute motion,” council member Kriss Worthington told People Powered Press by phone. “The City Attorney agreed with us that what they were trying to do is illegal. It’s an embarrassment.”
Worthington made a series of motions to raise Berkeley’s minimum wage to $13/hour in 2016, $14.50/hour in 2017, and $15/hour in 2018, roughly the same timeline of wage increases already adopted by San Francisco and Emeryville, and expected to be approved by a coalition of South Bay cities (Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale) by the end of this year.
But the proposed wage increases each received only four “yes” votes (Darryl Moore, Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington), one short of the five-vote majority needed to be approved. All of the other council members, any one of whom could have set Berkeley’s minimum wage to $15/hour by 2018 by voting “yes”, instead abstained from voting on the wage hikes at all.
“We’re going to have a special meeting November 10, which is two months from now, why are we going to wait that long?” asked council member Jesse Arreguin. “People are struggling on a day-to-day basis.”