The Berkeley City Council is set to vote on a proposal that would raise the city’s minimum wage for workers to $19 per hour by 2020.
According to KQED News, the proposed change to the city’s minimum wage schedule, which was recommended by Berkeley’s Labor Commission, will face consideration at a special council session on November 10.
Polly Armstrong, chief executive of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce, told CBS MoneyWatch that despite the fact that the businesses she represents are largely run by political progressives in one of the most liberal corners of California, a blue state, “What I hear is business owners who say, ‘This may put me out of business, but I don’t want to say publicly that I don’t want to pay my workers everything they deserve.’”
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“Because we care about our workers, it feels good to say everyone should get a living wage,” said Armstrong. However, she noted that many small business owners do not earn as much as $19 per hour themselves. “It’s just that bottom line,” she said.
CBS Moneywatch’s Aimee Picchi wrote that some business owners who “said boosting wages to $19 an hour would threaten the viability of their stores… spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of appearing to place business interests ahead of workers.”
Berkeley’s current minimum wage is $10 per hour and is set to rise to $11 per hour on October 1 under a recently-passed minimum wage hike that will see it rise to $12.53 per hour by October of 2016. The Labor Commission’s new proposal would hike the wage even further to $13 per hour by October 2016 on a schedule that would end in a $19-per-hour minimum wage by 2020. The Labor Commission’s panel that recommended the proposal did not include any area business owners.
Supporters of the measure claim that workers need the sharp increase to keep up with rising Berkeley rent prices, which have reportedly spiked 75 percent in 6 years to an average of over $2,800 per month for a one-bedroom apartment.
Armstrong said that such a sharp minimum wage hike could drive small businesses out of the city in favor of corporate chain stores. “It’s one thing if you want a town full of Applebee’s and P.F. Changs, but that’s not what Berkeley wants,” she said.
Berkeley’s city manager pointed out the fact that 60% of companies in the city are small businesses.
Business owner Dorothée Mitrani told the Berkeley City Council at a hearing last week that she is already being forced to close one of her existing business due to increasing labor costs. “I can’t survive. It’s not about not paying people. It’s about allowing us to run our small businesses so we can pay these people,” she said.
Labor Commission Chairperson Wendy Bloom told ABC 7 News, “We’re looking at trying to raise people out of poverty. You know, as a registered nurse, I know that you can’t have a healthy community unless you have a living wage, you can pay the bills, you can pay your rent, and we know housing isn’t affordable in the Bay Area.“