Berkeley City Council moves forward with new minimum wage increase

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Berkeley City Council abandoned a previously considered proposal in favor of a more aggressive plan to raise the city’s minimum wage at its Tuesday meeting.

Now, the council will consider raising the minimum wage — currently $8 per hour — to $10 in October this year, $11 a year later and $12.53 in 2016. On May 6, council members passed a first reading of a plan that would have raised the minimum wage to $10 at the beginning of next year and $10.75 by January of 2016, which they reconsidered Tuesday in light of dissent from numerous community members.

Dozens of Berkeley residents lined up to speak at the meeting in a public debate that centered on disagreement between proponents of an aggressive path to a $15 minimum wage and those concerned that such a sharp increase would destroy small businesses.

“Tonight, I hope you’re moving toward some kind of answer that raises wages in a fair and judicious way,” said Polly Armstrong, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce. “I worry greatly that the unintended consequences of some big move … will be the closing of our wonderful Berkeley small businesses.”

The council began a discussion about increasing the minimum wage last year and has since considered several proposals.

On May 1, the council held a meeting to consider a proposal by the Commission on Labor, which would increase the minimum wage in June to $10.74 for businesses with fewer than 50 employees and $13.34 for businesses with more than 50 employees. Discussion then shifted to a plan put forth by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli that would increase the wage to $10 in August. Both plans allowed for a steady increase in the minimum wage until it reached the projected Berkeley living wage of about $15.

But by the May 6 meeting, Capitelli had changed his mind about his plan. The council then voted 8-1 to pass a different plan that some called “watered down,” leading to the passage of a variation of a plan by Mayor Tom Bates at the latest council meeting.

“(The latest plan) is not perfect,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. “But it’s something.”

On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously — not to officially pass the new plan but for city staff to bring back an ordinance to undergo a first reading vote June 10. An ordinance must pass on a first and second reading to be adopted. Also in June, the council will discuss the creation of a task force to evaluate further adjustments to the minimum wage.

“The whole conversation has been such a roller coaster ride,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Don’t assume this is the end.”

Capitelli, however, saw the unanimous approval of the latest proposal as evidence that it will fare better than its predecessors.

The $12.53 figure is between the state minimum wage, which will be $10 starting 2016, and the $15 demanded by many residents. A grassroots coalition is working to get an initiative to raise the minimum wage to $15 on the Berkeley ballot in 2016, which Arreguin said he would support.

Melissa Wen is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.