Berkeley City Council to consider increasing minimum wage

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Berkeley City Council is planning to discuss drafting an ordinance to raise the minimum wage in Berkeley to be among the highest in the nation at its next City Council meeting.

Originally slated for discussion on Tuesday, the item was postponed due to the lengthy meeting and substantial agenda that day. Mayor Tom Bates and Councilmembers Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington drafted a statement Tuesday urging the city’s Commission on Labor to consider implementing a local minimum wage of $10.55 per hour. Berkeley currently does not have a city minimum wage requirement and has been using the state standard, which is $8 per hour.

They also hope to add a provision that would automatically increase the wage along with inflation.

This push follows San Francisco’s increase in minimum wage this year from $10.24 to $10.55 per hour — the highest minimum wage in the country. San Jose also passed a minimum wage ordinance in November of $10 per hour.

The city of Berkeley also has another regulation — the Living Wage Ordinance — requiring city contractors to pay a minimum of $13.03 per hour along with a medical benefit of at least $2.17 per hour. Other businesses located in Berkeley but not contracted with the city are not held to these standards.

Though the impact of an increased minimum wage on Berkeley is still unknown, UC Berkeley economics professor Michael Reich said that his studies have found that San Francisco’s citywide minimum wage of $10.55 per hour has not created negative employment effects.

In another study titled “Increasing the Minimum Wage in San Jose: Benefits and Costs,” Reich also concluded that “minimum wage increases attract more workers to a local area and make it easier for employers to recruit and retain their workers.”

Arreguin explained that he and other council members were inspired to discuss the issue by the high cost of living in Berkeley.

“We need to establish our own minimum wage so that people who work minimum- and low-wage jobs have livable income to be able to support their families, to be able to support themselves,” Arreguin said. “It’s very expensive to live in Berkeley and very expensive to live in the Bay Area.”

However, the Berkeley Restaurant Alliance, a coalition of more than 150 Berkeley restaurants, argues that this proposal is unreasonable and that the city’s communication with local businesses has been lacking.

“No one knew about this,” said Natalie Kniess, a co-founder of the Berkeley Restaurant Alliance. “The majority of businesses heard about it from the San Francisco Chronicle report. It was disrespectful to the business community. We want to help out the community … (but a) 32 percent wage increase will break the backs of the small mom-and-pop stores Berkeley is out to support.”

Arreguin said he has received a few emails from business owners expressing that this ordinance would negatively impact them but is confident that compromises can be made.

“Some businesses have voiced concerns, but there are ways we can work with the business community to move this forward,” Arreguin said. “I don’t think in the end it will force businesses to shut down.”

The minimum wage item was moved to the action agenda.

Contact Alison Fu at [email protected].