Berkeley may raise minimum wage to among highest in nation

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Following the footsteps of larger cities nearby, Berkeley may see an increase of nearly $3 to its minimum wage as soon as this summer.

Berkeley’s Commission on Labor minimum wage subcommittee recently drafted a proposal that asks the city to raise its minimum wage from $8 per hour to $10.74 per hour for small businesses and nonprofit organizations by June 30. The proposal — slated for discussion at Berkeley City Council’s April 1 meeting — also requests that the wage be set at $13.34 per hour for large businesses and that the city adjust the minimum wage annually to keep up with the cost of living.

If the ordinance is approved, Berkeley’s minimum wage will match San Francisco’s, which is the highest in the country.

“I hope it passes,” said Angus Teter, a UC Berkeley senior and chair of the minimum wage subcommittee. “It will be good for our community and help struggling families.”

Berkeley’s median value of owner-occupied housing units is more than $300,000, greater than that of California, and about 18 percent of people in Berkeley are below the poverty level, compared to about 15 percent of people in all of California, according to the United States Census Bureau.

On Wednesday, the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill expressing its alliance with the subcommittee. The bill, co-authored by CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn and her legislative director, Matthew Lewis, states that the ASUC will not back down if the City Council tries to “water down” portions of the ordinance.

Quinn, who has been passionate about the issue since attending a UC Berkeley-sponsored conference last year with the organization Raise the Minimum Wage, predicts the City Council will respond positively to the proposal.

“With a progressive area like Berkeley, it seems very feasible,” Quinn said.

But the topic of raising wage levels has led to backlash from members of the restaurant industry. Sam Frankel, chair of the Commission on Labor, explained that employers from restaurants have come forward to the committee to voice their concerns, saying that higher minimum wage levels will be detrimental to their businesses and will lead to a slew of financial troubles.

Frankel also noted, however, that there has been research showing that raising the minimum wage in fact stimulates the economy and that “there is no research showing that it causes a loss of jobs.”

In addition to the ASUC’s involvement, the general student population has been showing overwhelming support for a minimum wage increase, according to Teter. Teter hopes to inspire even more involvement in the UC Berkeley community leading up to the council meeting by possibly making speeches in classrooms and setting up a signature booth on Sproul Plaza.

“The greatest factor in passing legislation is (through) citizen involvement,” Teter said. “We are really going to try and rally students around this.”

Contact Becca Benham at [email protected].