Workers rally for minimum wage increase

The Associated Press
Friday October 06, 2000

STOCKTON — Hundreds of union members including farmworkers, carpenters and janitors rallied here Thursday to push for a $2.25 increase in California’s $5.75-an-hour minimum wage. 

The Industrial Welfare Commission, meeting here to hold the last of a series of hearings on the subject, is considering a $1 increase. 

The more than 300 union members demonstrating outside want it raised to $8 an hour. They say a dollar increase isn’t enough to support their families. 

“Five-seventy-five, we can’t survive,” they chanted. 

The five-member commission is expected to vote on an increase Oct. 23. Commissioners will not comment on the proposal until then, said Andy Baron, the panel’s executive officer. 

California last raised the minimum wage in March 1998. 

Business leaders contend an increase would mean lost jobs, higher insurance costs for employers and higher prices for consumers. 

Several farmers told the commission a $1 increase would hit them hard. 

“Anyone in production agriculture has no ability to raise the cost of their product. I can’t go asking for more money if you decide to do this,” Richard Dolezal, a Ripon cherry grower, testified. 

He estimated raising the minimum wage $1 would cost him $1,000 more a day during his peak season, when he has 100 workers out picking cherries. 

Commissioners are also considering whether to uphold several exemptions to the minimum wage. Shepherds, actors, some in-home health workers and some government employees are among workers not covered by it. 

Lodi sheep farmer Diego Olagaray told the commission he could not afford to pay his shepherds more. 

Shepherds’ lives are not as bad as they make them sound, said Olagaray, who raises 4,000 sheep and said he must also grow grapes to make a living. 

“They work four hours a day and we pay for board, for food, for insurance,” Olagaray said.  

“The $900 a month they make is all tax-free, take-home pay.” 

So many people crowded the hearing that the fire marshal and California Highway Patrol at one point restricted entry to the state building’s auditorium, which holds 185 people. Protesters used bullhorns to get their message inside. 

Lindsay farmworker Florencia Ramos, who speaks Spanish and testified through a translator, said she and her husband, who works for a chicken producer, are trying to support their young children on the minimum wage. 

“We came to this country to get a better life, but it’s even worse than in our own country,” said Ramos, who is from Mexico.