Decision on Berkeley minimum wage increase postponed

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An ordinance to raise Berkeley’s minimum wage, originally slated to be voted on at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, will now face deliberation at a special meeting next month, prolonging a nearly year-long effort to increase the city’s baseline pay.

The Commission on Labor’s minimum wage subcommittee submitted a proposal in January that would increase minimum wage for small businesses to $10.74 per hour and $13.34 per hour for businesses with at least 50 employees, with annual cost-of-living adjustments based on inflation. The ordinance also provides medical benefits of at least $2.22 per hour starting in 2015, if health insurance is not provided for employees.

Tuesday’s decision was postponed by Mayor Tom Bates to provide a better forum for deliberation among community members, city staff and the subcommittee. A special meeting is scheduled for May 1 to provide for detailed discussion regarding the ordinance.

“It’s a very important issue that certainly merits its own meeting,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “(The ordinance) is complex, concerns have been raised and, given the importance of this issue and need for council to have adequate discussion, we should have a special meeting.”

At the meeting, the subcommittee, as well as city staff, will make a presentation on their recommendations and open the floor to public comment. According to Arreguin, nothing is precluding the City Council from taking action on May 1.

Although the city is left without any definitive action on the ordinance, the student-driven, minimum-wage advocacy group Raise the Wage East Bay has collected nearly 2,000 signatures in two separate petitions directed to Berkeley City Council supporting the minimum-wage increase. Another petition started through a YouPower campaign website has collected about 420 signatures.

In February, the ASUC Senate unanimously passed a bill expressing its alliance with the subcommittee chaired by Angus Teter, UC Berkeley senior and Raise the Wage East Bay member.

“This is the time to take control of the city,” Teter said. “Workers need to stand up and demand a living wage to not have to struggle in poverty. I think it’s really important that Berkeley take this issue on.”

But at Tuesday’s meeting, David Rowe, director of operations at both Jupiter and Triple Rock Brewing Company, raised concerns about the ordinance as currently drafted, saying the minimum-wage increase is “too much too fast” and asked for the council for a gradual approach.

Because the delay means the council will deliberate on an outdated version of the ordinance in May, the subcommittee will hold an internal preemptive meeting April 23 to update the original implementation schedule to accommodate the month-long postponement, among other minor alterations. The changes will be reflected in a supplemental packet provided to the council in May.

Jeff Landa covers city news. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JeffLanda.