Consensus Among Community, Labor, Small Business, and Government to Lift Low-Wage Workers and Address Income Inequality
BAY AREA, CA – Emeryville legislators voted unanimously to raise its minimum wage to $12.25 with a path to almost $16 by 2019, making it the highest in the nation. Their vote was spurred by consensus for a higher regional minimum wage between residents, workers, faith leaders, and small businesses. In their deliberations, Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin and Councilmembers cited the crisis of income inequality as the reason for their decision. The law will go into effect on July 1st after a final procedural reading of the ordinance on May 19th.
“We have to move people out of poverty,” said Gary Jimenez, Vice President of SEIU 1021. “We are winning the fight for $15, and the Bay Area is moving to develop the first regional standard in the country for wages and working conditions.”
“With income inequality out of control, we need to lift the floor for low-wage workers so if you work full-time, you don’t need public assistance,” said Emeryville Mayor Ruth Atkin. “We have a tempered regional approach and consensus that includes business. This is a policy for the common good.”
The Emeryville ordinance will raise wages for small businesses to $12.25 on July 1, with a path to $15 by 2018. Big box retail stores and other major employers with more than 55 employees like IKEA – which profited $3.7 billion last year – will raise to Emeryville’s living wage of $14.44 on July 1. The two wages will converge in 2019 at an close to $16, and continue upward with annual cost of living increases. All workers will earn 6 to 9 paid sick days as well.
At the Council meeting, roughly 25 members of the public delivered passionate testimony in favor with virtually no vocal opposition. There was clear consensus from workers, small business, faith leaders, and community members that $12.25 would be a fair place to start, helping workers, and beginning to create a regional standard to level the playing field for business.
“I have two jobs to help my mom pay the bills, and it’s hard to pay for transportation to get to school so I can get an education,” said 16-year old Emerald Jenkins, Emeryville Pak ‘n Save worker who gets paid $9 an hour. “It’s just common sense to raise the minimum wage. Not only would I be able to pay the bills, but if I earn more, I spend more, and that helps everybody.”
“Emeryville’s leadership is contributing to the positive tipping point on the minimum wage nationally,” said Jennifer Lin, Deputy Director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy. “Two years ago, $15 was unthinkable, but today it’s unstoppable because of the broad consensus we have among workers, community members, faith leaders, small business, and our elected leaders.”
“Our employees are our greatest asset, and If we want to grow our community, we have to make our jobs better jobs,” said Ahna Adair, owner of CommonWealth Micropub in Emeryville and CommonWealth Café and Pub in Oakland. “We’ve done it in Oakland, and the sky hasn’t fallen. We’ve raised our prices 25 cents on a coffee, and I think our customers just perceive it as the new norm.”
Jackie, an Emeryville Starbucks low-wage worker and ACCE member, said in tears, “I can’t afford to live on my own, and have to rely on my sister to get by. I have medical bills that are destroying my credit, and I don’t have enough money to see the doctor. So many of my coworkers are in the same boat.”
“With the new minimum wage, more workers will be able to live here and support Emeryville’s local businesses,” said Judy Timmel, 22-year Emeryville resident and member of Residents United for a Livable Emeryville (RULE). “And if I have to pay a little more in businesses, I don’t mind because I know it’s going to the right place.”
Councilmember Dianne Martinez thanked workers for their moving testimony and said, “If our workers are creative enough to make it on minimum wage, our businesses are creative enough to make it work. We are all going to rise together in Emeryville.”
Emeryville is the latest city in a national movement for $15 that began in the fast food industry across the country. The vote occurred as neighboring Berkeley and Richmond also look to raise their wages. Last November, 82% of Oakland voters and 78% of San Francisco voters approved wage raises to address growing income inequality in the high-cost Bay Area region. Oakland’s $12.25 wage went into effect this past March 2, and San Francisco on May 1.
More than 190,000 workers in Oakland and San Francisco won a raise thanks to the November initiatives. A higher minimum wage in those two cities alone will put $500 million into workers’ pockets, which gets spent in local businesses