Minimum wage proposal for East Bay cities gathers momentum

Cesar Ruiz/Staff

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Mayor Tom Bates’ proposal to create a regional minimum wage across the East Bay is generating interest among officials in various cities.

Bates first announced the idea in April, after a proposed city ordinance that is slated for a second reading at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. If passed, a task force would be established at the next council meeting to oversee potential amendments and to coordinate with other cities about regional minimum wage hike efforts.

“There is a high outlook on (the increased minimum wage ordinance) passing at the council meeting tonight,” said Charles Burress, Bates’ assistant. “The measure passed unanimously at the June 10 meeting, and I haven’t heard any opposition since then.”

The current minimum wage for most East Bay cities is $8 per hour, but the proposed ordinance would increase it to $12.53 by October of 2016 in the city of Berkeley. Oakland placed a similar minimum wage increase on its November ballot, while Richmond has already enacted a minimum wage hike.

According to Berkeley and El Cerrito officials, Bates is planning to speak to the El Cerrito City Council regarding potential wage increase action.

But some elected officials from other cities are waiting for more substantial analysis on the proposal before they take formal action.

“Clearly there has to be more detailed analysis of the effects of the minimum wage increase on very small ‘mom and pop’ firms … since many of these operate on such thin margins,” said Tony Daysog, an Alameda City Council member, in an email.

He emphasized the importance of analyzing the proposal to determine “who ultimately pays” for measures like these.

Emeryville’s mayor, Jac Asher, said she supports the idea of a regional minimum wage but was still waiting for a report prepared by her staff to gain a better understanding of what the plan would mean for Emeryville.

“My concern, while I want a regional minimum wage, is that every city is going to be dealing with a different context and different circumstances,” Asher said.

Asher added that Emeryville City Council will potentially consider various local proposals to increase minimum wage at its August 6th meeting. Bob Canter, the president and CEO of the Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will poll its members in the coming months to get their input before they take a position on regional minimum wage.

Asher added that Emeryville’s city council will also examine how other cities have implemented minimum wage increases recently, such as Seattle, where increases in minimum wage are adjusted based on the size of the business.

“We need to raise the minimum wage, and we need to do it quickly,” Asher said. “I’m absolutely interested in it. I’m just not sure what the details are going to look like.”

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, who supports the minimum wage increase in the city and region, said although the increase from $8 to $12.53 is a “step forward,” it is not enough to support people working in jobs like retail and food service.

“Tackling minimum wage regionally will have the most impact and help the most people,” Arreguin said. “The increase is important, but what’s critical is that the raised minimum wage match the cost of living in the East Bay.”

Contact Angel Jennings and Anna Li at [email protected].