Berkeley to Increase Minimum Wage to $19

By Ted Moore

Cameron Smith works at Eureka!, a restaurant and bar next door to Berkeley City College. She told The Voice that when the new minimum wage went into effect last month, her boss gathered all the employees together in a meeting. “You get a raise! And you get a raise! And you get a raise!” he said. Photo Credit: Hollie Hardy

On October 1, 2015, the City of Berkeley increased its minimum wage from $10 an hour to $11.00 an hour. According to documents on the City’s website, this year’s increase is the beginning of proposed amendments that will raise the City’s minimum wage, each year until it reaches $19.00 an hour in 2020.

The BCC Voice attended the City’s public council meeting on September 15, 2015, in which the Council debated the wording of the proposed amendments and provisions to the Minimum Wage Ordinance Chapter 13.99. There was also time set aside for a public forum after the Amendments and Proposals were heard from the Labor Commission and Commission on Health, Housing and Human Services.

A contingent of small business owners spoke out against the increase of the minimum wage because of their fears of economic fallout from consumers who may not patronize their businesses in Berkeley due to the anticipated price increases that come with a minimum wage increase.

Claudia Hunka, a small business owner in the Elmwood District of Berkeley, voiced her concern to the City Council that “These proposed minimum wage increases are lacking any factual and informed studies of the City of Berkeley and the economic reality of its small businesses.”

Local workers and organizations were also out in numbers at the meeting to show their support for raising the minimum wage. A majority of these workers come from the food service industry, where minimum wage is the industry standard. Most of these employees have more than one job to support themselves and their families.

Without these changes to the current Minimum Wage Ordinance, Chapter 13.99, these workers will continue to work at poverty levels and may be forced to move to another city where the cost of living is more affordable. Some may have to make hard choices between food today and the electric bill for the month.

Medical care is not an option for some minimum wage earners, not even a ride to the E.R. in an ambulance. Travis Lane, a local EMT in Berkeley, gave a vivid description of what his minimum wage job entails to the City Council “…not only is minimum wage wading through bodily fluids and the dying…[but also] hearing people just slowly giving up their hold on their lives.”

As families and workers continue to struggle to find a way out of poverty, the City of Berkeley has postponed its vote on the proposed amendments and revisions until November 10, 2015.

Even with the current increase in the minimum wage this month, Berkeley is still behind Bay Area neighbors such as Oakland, Emeryville, and San Francisco. The next minimum wage increase is scheduled for October 1st, 2016, when it will reach $12.53 per hour, but still may not be enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Students who want to follow the vote on the City’s minimum wage increase can attend the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday, November 10, 2015, at 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, Berkeley , at 7pm.

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