Public Comment

New: For a Living Wage in Berkeley

By Harry Brill
Saturday February 22, 2014 - 10:49:00 AM

During the great depression of the 1930s, Franklyn D. Roosevelt stated "No business which depends for existence on paying less then living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country." The ugly fact is that a growing number of working people are paid a poverty wage. In fact, due in part to the enormous increase in low wage jobs, working people for the first time now make up the majority in U.S. households that rely on food stamps. 

We continually hear from the business community that raising these low wages would increase unemployment As if business cares about the quality of life for working people! What they are saying, in effect, is that a low standard of living when all things are considered is best for workers. In truth, business is not making an objective assessment. These are threats of retaliation.  

Many States and local communities are not being taken in by business propaganda. A national movement has developed that is attempting to make the minimum wage a living wage. Berkeley is among those communities. Berkley's own labor commission -- its members are appointed by the City Council -- has submitted an excellent proposal to the City Council, which will probably consider it by April.  

The main objective of the proposal is to achieve a living wage. The minimum wage would begin at close to $11 an hour ($10.74), and would be increased by 55 cents each year. Also, employees would receive a medical benefit of $2.22 an hour. And extremely important, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually according to changes in the cost of living. Landlords who own rent controlled apartments in Berkeley receive an annual cost of living adjustment. So why shouldn't working people! Down the road the minimum wage could reach as high as $20 an hour. The Berkeley proposal certainly beats the recently adopted California minimum wage law, which peaks at $10 an hour in 2016 and lacks a cost of living adjustment. 

Not only minimum wage workers would benefit. Also, many workers who are just above the minimum will see increases as well. But won't consumers have to pay more for their purchases? Even if the entire cost of the wage increase is passed on to consumers, the impact would be minimal. The cost of grocery shopping would increase on the average to less than $20 a year.  

If communities and states around the country as well as Berkeley enact living wage laws, the many billions of dollars of additional spending would improve the economy and create jobs. Of course, winning the battle for a living wage is certainly not the only issue that matters to working people and their families. But it is certainly an important issue that is winnable if the Berkeley Community mobilizes.