City urges ‘no’ vote on 2 minimum wage initiatives on ballot

Heyun Jeong/Staff

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In the upcoming November elections, Berkeley voters will have a choice between two measures that would both bring Berkeley to a $15 minimum wage — and the creators of those initiatives want the citizens to vote no on both.

Measure CC was placed on the ballot in May as the result of a community initiative, while Measure BB was voted onto the ballot by City Council over the summer. As a compromise between the two, in August, City Council passed a minimum wage ordinance — but this was after the deadline for removing ballot measures and could be overruled if either of the measures get enough votes on the ballot.

According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, when cities in the area began passing minimum wage laws four years ago, discussion about an increase in Berkeley gained traction. Currently it’s at $12.53.

But labor unions and workers’ rights advocates argued that this wage is not livable in a place as expensive as Berkeley. In November of 2015, after many defeated attempts by some council members to increase the minimum wage further, the Berkeley for Working Families coalition began to gather signatures to put a minimum wage initiative on the 2016 ballot.

“Eventually the public got so infuriated by all the delays and defeats that they said, ‘We’re gonna do a ballot measure and let the voters decide,’ ” Worthington said.

Measure CC, submitted by a coalition composed of representatives from local labor unions, community activists and the ASUC Senate, would raise the Berkeley minimum wage to $15 by 2017. In 2019, the wage would begin increasing annually to account for inflation, plus three percent, until it reached the living wage, which is currently $16.37 in Berkeley, and then increase with inflation after that.

“The Bay Area is an extremely expensive place to live, and a significant section of the working population of Berkeley can’t afford to live anywhere near here,” said Steve Gilbert, who is a member of SEIU Local 1021 and organizer for the coalition.

While proponents of Measure CC claimed it was necessary for workers in Berkeley to be paid a living wage, some opponents, such as small nonprofit owner Gina Moreland, said there should be some consideration for small businesses that have fixed budgets.

“It’s such a challenging issue. I really want to be able to pay my employees more,” said Moreland, the founder and executive director of the children’s museum Habitot. “I’m wearing two hats — my social justice hat, as a person, and my business hat, with the question of how do I keep these services going … if I can’t afford to do it.”

Moreland said that unless there was a substantial increase in donations to the museum, she would have to raise ticket prices in order to be able to pay her employees the new minimum wage. Measure CC, according to Moreland, did not consider smaller budgets or allow enough time for small businesses to adjust.

Measure BB would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019 and have it increase with inflation after that. It also includes a $1.50 health benefit credit and an exemption for youth in job training programs, neither of which were provided by Measure CC.

The measure, supported by small business owners and the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, provides 48 hours of sick leave, while CC provides 48 hours for businesses with fewer than 10 employees and 72 hours for all other companies.

According to Councilmember Susan Wengraf, some members of City Council didn’t want Measure CC to pass but thought it might, so they attempted to broker a compromise between the two measures on the ballot.

“I thought CC was much too fast — for our small businesses and nonprofits it would be catastrophic,” Wengraf said. “The ordinance that City Council passed in August gives them two years to adapt.”

The city’s ordinance, passed at the end of August, would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2018, provide up to 72 hours of paid sick leave and allow “flexible youth-job-training wage for non-profits,” according to the campaign documents. Both the labor unions that created measure CC and the business owners who approved of BB have endorsed the city’s ordinance and joined together in a campaign against measures BB and CC.

The campaign, run by Siciliana Trevino, was created in order to inform the public that they should vote no on both measures — if one of them passes, according to Trevino, it would overrule the ordinance unanimously passed by City Council.

“I do feel that we’ve been successful so far in getting people to understand how important it is to support the ordinance and see that it remains the law,” Trevino said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what the voters say.”

Anderson Lanham is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AndersonLanham.