BERKELEY -- Reversing itself for a third time in three weeks, the City Council on May 20 approved, in concept, a phased-in minimum wage increase that would bring low-wage workers within city limits to at least $12.53 per hour by Oct. 1, 2016.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the Service Employees International Union 1021, along with a group of residents frustrated with what they say is Berkeley's slow approach to raising the minimum wage, filed an initiative with the city clerk that, if 5,275 signatures are gathered, would give voters a chance to go to the ballot box in 2016 to decide on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The council will formally vote June 10 on the wage hike it approved this week in concept, raising the citywide minimum wage from the state's $8 per hour (set to jump to $9 per hour in July) to $10 per hour on Oct. 1, 2014. It would increase to $11 on Oct. 1, 2015, and $12.53 in 2016. The plan would include a one-year grace period for nonprofits and exempt youth in training programs. No cost of living increases are included.
At this week's meeting, the council declined to finalize an ordinance previously approved May 6, that would have increased the minimum wage to $10.75 by 2016.
On May 1, Councilman Laurie Capitelli had proposed increasing the minimum wage to $11.55 per hour by 2016 and $15.25 per hour by 2020. Capitelli later withdrew that proposal in favor of the $10.75 by 2016 minimum wage ordinance, which was rejected by the council May 20.
If the initiative proposed by SEIU 1021 garners the required signatures, it will be before Berkeley voters in 2016 and would bring the base wage to $15 per hour 90 days after voter approval, include an annual cost of living increase, paid sick days and tip protection. Similar initiatives sponsored by SEIU and partner organizations in Richmond and Oakland that could be placed on the November 2014 ballot would hike the minimum wage in both cities to $12.25 per hour by 2015.
An initiative likely to be on the San Francisco ballot this November would bring the minimum wage there to $15.30 per hour by 2017. The initiatives include cost of living increases and paid sick days.
"I wish I could be telling the world how the city of Berkeley ... is committed to fighting economic inequality and has passed a real minimum wage law," said Gary Jimenez, SEIU 1021 vice president. "Instead I'm here to tell the council that we are taking the issue to the voters. We are here because you abandoned low wage workers."
Many speakers urged the council to adopt a higher minimum wage immediately. Several small business owners, while supporting some increase, argued against a sharp hike.
Berkeley's minimum wage should be raised "in a fair and judicious way that keeps small businesses open, and jobs available," Chamber of Commerce CEO Polly Armstrong said.
Councilwoman Linda Maio expressed concern for local book stores. "We all know that they're up against Internet sales," she said. "It breaks my heart that they may be a casualty of our efforts."
Councilmen Jesse Arreguin, Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson and Darryl Moore failed to get support for a steeper minimum wage hike and reluctantly voted with the majority.
"I strongly support going to the ballot box," Arreguin said.
"It's unfortunate that council once again is refusing to act and that the citizens have to go to the extraordinary step of direct democracy to get progressive legislation passed."