Berkeley voters to consider $15 minimum wage on November ballot

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Aditi Raghunath/File

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An alliance of labor activists, elected officials, students and community members announced Monday that they have successfully collected the necessary signatures to place a $15 minimum wage initiative on Berkeley’s November ballot.

If the initiative passes in November, Berkeley’s minimum wage will increase to $15 by October 2017 — with an additional 3 percent plus inflation — until the minimum wage reaches a living wage in 2021.

In November 2015, Berkeley City Council discussed possibly raising to the city minimum wage to a living wage, adding an annual cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage and providing additional paid sick leave to all workers. Council members Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington voted in favor of the minimum wage provision, while the mayor and the other five council members abstained, which ultimately prevented its passage.

“It’s a common tactic to abstain,” Worthington said, noting that an abstention is a way to “effectively kill” the measure without voting against it, which he said could potentially hurt council members during re-election.

The initiative, which was a grassroots response to City Council’s failure to pass a minimum wage increase, would also require employers to provide one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours of work within 90 days of the measure’s passage. The measure stipulates that workers will be guaranteed a mandated maximum of nine sick days for businesses with more than 10 employees and six days for those with fewer than 10 employees.

Several other Bay Area municipalities, including Emeryville, Oakland and San Francisco, have already passed similar minimum wage increases.

“Berkeley is way behind on minimum wage,” said Steve Gilbert, Berkeley for Working Families coalition organizer. “Working families can’t work enough hours to survive because their wages are so low.”

The petition for the ordinance received more than 4,400 signatures, or more than 170 percent of those needed for it to appear on the city’s November ballot, according to Gilbert.

Berkeley’s current minimum wage is $11 per hour and is scheduled to increase to $12.54 by Oct. 1.

The ballot initiative would effectively speed up the statewide minimum wage increase approved by state Legislature earlier this month, which will increase the minimum from $10 to $15 by 2022 for large businesses and by 2023 for small businesses.

UC President Janet Napolitano also announced this summer that the minimum wage for both its direct and contracted workers working more than 20 hours per week would increase to $15 per hour over the next three years.

“Philosophically and politically, I think it’s great,” said Collin Doran, owner of Homemade Cafe. “But as a restaurant owner, it makes it difficult.”

Doran said that as a result of the increase, he might have to raise prices or reduce worker benefits, including health benefits or paid leave.

Berkeley City Council will take up the issue of minimum wage again at its April 26 meeting. General elections will take place Nov. 8.

Contact Adam Iscoe at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @iscoe_dc.