If all goes as planned, the Berkeley Marina restaurants and hotel will be paying higher wages to their employees by Oct. 20. The Berkeley City Council is poised to expand its Living Wage Ordinance at tonight’s meeting, requiring established Marina businesses to pay their employees a minimum of $9.75
A Living Wage Ordinance was adopted in June, and applies to workers employed by persons leasing land from the city.
But Marina workers, whose employers lease city land, were not covered, because the hotels’ and restaurants’ contracts with the city would not be renewed for a number of years.
However City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque reviewed the question and determined that including Marina employees in the ordinance under a Marina Zone was legal, said Lindsey Urbina, deputy city attorney.
“It was added later, and had to be addressed by the City Attorney after the fact,” Urbina said.
The Living Wage ordinance mandates higher wages for workers in Berkeley whose employers contract with the city or whose employers lease property from the city.
Current living wage standards are set for $11.38 per hour without health insurance, or $9.75 per hour with employers setting aside the difference for health care coverage.
The levels are set this way because legally, employers cannot be forced to purchase health insurance, said Amaha Kassa, an organizer at the East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economic Development. “This way, workers are guaranteed that they can pay rent and have health care,” he said.
Such living wage in the Marina is overdue, Kassa said. “Marina businesses have been taking advantage of a unique, city-owned location while cutting out service-sector employees from the windfall,” he added.
“The Radisson is a worst case scenario, where many employees make only $7 an hour, and get no health benefits,” Kassa said. “They benefit from a location that the city funds to keep up. It’s the location that brings tourists and weddings to the Marina on a permanent basis.”
Cliff Marchetti, Waterfront manager, said that the city has budgeted $3.3 million for operations in the year 2001. “I don’t know the exact number of people who come in a year.” Marchetti said. “But it’s a lot. Several thousand a day.”
In 1962, the city was granted the Marina Zone via the state’s Public Trust Tidelands grant. This includes Aquatic Park and all lands west of Marina Boulevard. The lands were designated for “the public’s use and enjoyment of the bay and the waterfront,” according to a memo written by Weldon Rucker, acting city manager.
Rucker argued that such wage increases will “improve the service given to the public by employees there.”
“The public interest is best served by ensuring that the public is not deterred from visiting the Marina because they do not wish to patronize businesses who do not pay their employees a living wage or provide them with health care benefits,” Rucker wrote in a report to the council.
Roxanna Gipson has been working for 10 years at the Radisson as a housekeeper.
“They’ve been working us like slaves,” she said. “We clean between 15 and 16 rooms everyday.”
Up until two years ago, she was working for $6.25 an hour, without health care benefits. When Radisson employees presented management with a petition to unionize, in September of 1999, that wage shot up to $9.25, but she was still paying over $112 a month for health coverage. Now, living in Oakland, the skyrocketing price of gas has set her back even more, just getting to and from work, and even if she wanted to move to Berkeley to be closer to work, she couldn’t.
“There’s no way I could live in Berkeley. The rent is too high,” Gipson said. “Basically, they can afford to hire me in Berkeley, but I can’t afford to live in Berkeley.”
It’s such conditions, Kassa said, that make living wage ordinances necessary now.
“Berkeley is extremely expensive. Many people want to live here, to be close to work, but they can’t, because of low wages and high rent. This results in low wage service providers, many of whom are people of color and immigrants,” he said.
Polly Armstrong, councilmember from District 8, said: “If we want Berkeley to remain a diverse city, we need to increase housing opportunities and raise wages. By demanding that these long term Marina workers make more than just a minimum wage, we are using our power to improve the quality of their lives.”
Brij Misra, general manager of the Marina Radisson, said he hadn’t had time to study the impact of the pending ordinance. “I’m sure that there would be some kind of impact on the Radisson,” he said.
Kassa and Gipson, on the other hand, are sure about the impact the higher wages will have.
“Obtaining living wages will ensure that more people benefit from the advantages of a location that almost guarantees economic success,” Kassa said.
Gipson agreed. “I’ve been living pay check to pay check, and now I’ll be able to save a little for a rainy day.”