Debate over raising minimum wage for city workers continues

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The Berkeley Commission on Labor is considering whether or not to recommend raising the city’s minimum wage from $8 to $10.55 per hour to Berkeley City Council. 

The discussion to increase the minimum wage from the state standard of $8 per hour — as both San Francisco and San Jose have done — began in May, when Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington drafted a statement urging the commission to consider implementing a local minimum wage of $10.55 per hour.

Last Wednesday, about 100 people marched to a Commission on Labor meeting held at the North Berkeley Senior Center to comment on the idea. While most at the meeting were in favor of raising the minimum wage, some said that tipped minimum wage workers should not be eligible, because they have the potential to make more money than the average minimum wage worker.

The decision to raise the wage above state levels remains controversial, especially in light of inconclusive evidence regarding its economic effects.

A study commissioned by the California Restaurant Association investigated the potential impact of a wage hike in San Jose. The study began prior to the implementation of the wage hike and found that thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars could be lost as a result.

But Javier Gonzalez, director of local government affairs for the California Restaurant Association, said no such study has been conducted since the minimum wage hike was implemented in March.

Restaurant owners in Berkeley are also concerned the wage increase will hurt business in the area.

“Isn’t the city trying to attract new business,” said Natalie and Todd Kniess, co-founders of the Berkeley Restaurant Alliance in a public record submission to City Council and the Berkeley Labor Commission on July 10. “(A wage hike) certainly won’t attract new business, as everybody knows. Who’s going to offset the bad news?”

UC Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich, who has studied the minimum wage increase in both San Francisco and San Jose, does not think an increase in minimum wage would create a negative effect on business and says that it could, in fact, benefit Berkeley businesses.

“Although some potential employers thinking of locating just inside Berkeley’s borders might choose instead a location just across the border, the higher minimum wage will also attract more people to work at Berkeley-based companies,” Reich said in an email. “A higher minimum wage will make it easier for Berkeley employers to attract and retain more workers.”

The commission will continue to deliberate and hear testimony on the issue. Ben Beach, a member of the commission’s minimum wage subcommittee, said he hopes and expects to make a recommendation to the City Council in the fall.

“I think it is pretty clear where public opinion is going with minimum wage in Berkeley,” said Angus Teter, chair of the subcommittee. “The opinion is that Berkeley should increase the minimum wage, including for restaurant workers … it doesn’t make sense to uplift only some minimum wage workers.”

Contact Nico Correia at [email protected]

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