Berkeley City Council passes new minimum wage ordinance at a second try do-over special meeting

Jeff Shuttleworth/ Scott Morris(BCN)
Friday August 26, 2016 - 08:41:00 AM

After failing for months to reach a consensus on the issue, the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously at a special meeting today to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour in two years. 

Council members said they will now ask Berkeley voters to reject two competing ballot measures that are on the November ballot. 

Measure BB, which was put on the ballot by the council's majority earlier this year, would have raised the minimum hourly wage to $15 by 2019, a slightly less aggressive timeline than the Oct. 1, 2018, deadline set in today's vote. 

Measure CC, which was supported by labor groups, was more aggressive and would have called for reaching $15 an hour in 2017. 

City Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who is running for mayor, said the measure approved today "is a consensus document, not a compromise document," and was reached in negotiations that included the Service Employees International Union and the Berkeley City Council. 

City Councilman Jesse Arreguin, who also is running for mayor, said "This is a really important step for economic justice in our city and in avoiding two conflicting ballot measures." 

However, Arreguin said, "I want to see a pathway to a living wage in the future" that would call for an even higher minimum wage down the road. 

The City Council has discussed the minimum wage issue for many months and scheduled a special meeting on the issue on Aug. 11 but the meeting had to be canceled because there wasn't a quorum of council members. 

Currently, Berkeley's minimum wage is set to go to $12.53 on Oct. 1, which is still below the minimum wage in neighboring cities of Emeryville and Oakland. 

The ordinance that was approved today calls for increasing Berkeley's minimum wage to $13.75 on Oct. 1, 2017, and then to $15 on Oct. 1, 2018. It would go up according to the consumer price index after that. 

The City Council will have a second reading on the issue at another special meeting on Monday morning but because today's vote was unanimous it's expected that it will be approved again. 

For youth job training program participants, the minimum wage will rise to $12 an hour on Oct. 1, 2017, increase by $1.25 on Jan. 1, 2019 and by the same amount annually until it equals the general minimum wage. 

Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco have passed faster schedules to raise the minimum wage in their cities. Oakland's is currently $12.55 and set for an increase based on the consumer price index on Jan. 1, Emeryville's is $13 an hour for businesses with 55 or fewer employees and $14.82 for businesses with more, and San Francisco's is set to rise to $15 in 2018. 

In March, Gov. Jerry Brown announced a deal that would bring the statewide minimum wage to $15 by 2022. 

Many labor leaders and community activists praised the council's vote today but many small business owners and nonprofit groups said the faster increase in the minimum wage will hurt them and the community at large. 

Gina Moreland, who founded the Habitot Children's Museum at 2065 Kittredge St. in downtown Berkeley in 1992 and serves as its executive director, said 14 of her 32 employees currently make less than $15 an hour and increasing their pay to that level would cost the nonprofit $20,000, an amount that she said will be difficult to raise. 

Moreland told the council, "Think hard about the rollout (of the wage hike) and its impact on nonprofits like us." 

Kristine Seinsch, the owner of the Jazz Café at 2087 Addison St., said the wage increase will hurt small businesses such as hers and result in an influx of more big businesses such as Target and Panera Bread that can afford to pay their workers more money. 

Mary Canales, the owner of Ici Ice Cream at 2948 College Ave., said in an email, "Such proposed increases in wage will force us to close and lay off 30-plus people." 

Canales said she has employed more than 200 people in her 10 years running her business, including several people for whom it was their first job and "went on to other, higher-paying work or started their own businesses." 

Canales said, "Margins are very thin in the food world. The wage increase is putting pressure on our business and will likely turn it into a money-losing endeavor." 

Capitelli said that if the council approves the wage hike at its second reading Monday morning it will ask a judge later in the day to approve changes in the ballot arguments for the two minimum wage measures to make it clear that it's now asking voters to vote against both of them.