Berkeley’s minimum wage officially increased to $15 an hour as of Monday, inciting a mixed response from the community. The increase from $13.75 to $15 puts Berkeley on par with San Francisco’s recent minimum wage increase, and ahead of the national minimum wage of $7.25.
In addition to the rise, employees of most businesses will now also receive more paid sick leave, according to a city of Berkeley press release.
The Minimum Wage and Paid Sick Leave ordinances now in effect apply to employees who work more than two hours a week within Berkeley’s city limits, according to the press release. Those enrolled in government or nonprofit job training programs will also see an hourly wage increase: from $12 to $13.25.
“I think it’s an issue that really affects a lot of low-wage workers that are struggling to survive,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who originally proposed an increase in the minimum wage back in 2003.
Worthington, however, also expressed his concerns about the new minimum wage, stating that this accelerated increase may have a negative effect on small business owners who are unable to meet the new standard.
Guy “Mike” Lee, an advocate for the homeless, expressed similar concerns about the survival of small businesses when he tweeted, “goodbye mom and pop” in response to the city of Berkeley’s press release on the increase.
“The thing is that there are numerous mom and pop stores that quite frankly can’t afford to pay,” Lee said. “If you hurt small businesses, you hurt tax revenue and then, you hurt student services. You can’t help them (students) because you don’t have the money to do so.”
For others, the wage increase does not go far enough. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, the UC system’s largest employee union, spokesperson John de los Angeles believes the hike was “long overdue,” given price inflation and the California housing crisis. He added that the next step in improving the standard of living for workers in Berkeley is to protect job benefits — such as health care and retirement benefits — which he said are at risk amid the outsourcing of university jobs.
One way some students pay for tuition and housing is by working on campus or as employees for local businesses.
“I am working so that I can put money towards my student loans,” said Angel Leon, a campus freshman. “$1.25 more an hour definitely adds up and will allow me to not only spend money on necessities but also leave me with spending money.”
A recent study conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment looked at the effect of recent minimum wage increases on six cities and concluded that all six cities experienced stronger economic growth compared to the average county. The report also noted that it could not detect any significant negative effects of a higher minimum wage on employment.
“I think having a new minimum wage guarantees job security for low-wage workers,” said Councilmember Lori Droste. “This has been a result of extended collaboration between a lot of people. We have multiple stakeholders at the table to make sure that all voices were heard.”