Oakland Minimum Wage Increase Seeks to Reduce Wage Gap

Marching in Oakland behind the call for an increased minimum wage (Alessandro Tinonga | SW)

Marching in Oakland behind the call for an increased minimum wage (Alessandro Tinonga | SW)

Business owners and workers in Oakland are debating Councilmember Larry Reid’s proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $10.20 an hour, which would be adjusted for inflation each year and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Reid’s proposal would provide Oakland employees a higher quality of life and close the wage gap between the working poor and middle and upper class workers, according to the ordinance’s supporters.

“Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage earners are female, the majority being single heads of households, ” According to A report presented at the Community and Economic Development (CED) meeting last week.

For a single parent living with two children to maintain a sufficient lifestyle, the head of the household would need to make $39 an hour, the report says.

Currently, minimum wage workers take home $8 an hour. The state minimum is set to increase to $9 in July and then, $10 in 2016. But these increases and Reid’s proposal will not be effective in reducing poverty for low-income, minimum wage workers, say some people.

Councilmember Larry Reid, District 7

Councilmember Larry Reid, District 7

A ballot initiative proposed by Lift Up Oakland calls for the minimum wage to be raised to $12.25 an hour in addition to employers giving their workers at least five paid sick days per year.

According to Nikki Fortunato Bas, who spoke for Lift Up Oakland at last Tuesday’s CED meeting, “More than a third of workers currently make between $10 to $12 an hour.”

Councilmembers Pat Kernighan, Libby Schaaf, and Lynette McElhaney all expressed support for Reid’s proposal but called for additional research on the impact the increase would have on businesses in Oakland.

“I am concerned about the short-term impacts to both small businesses and particularly restaurants,” said Kernighan. “A lot of it is about how fast [the minimum wage] goes up to allow businesses to accommodate.”

Schaaf, who supports the Lift Up Oakland ballot initiative, said, “I have waited a lot of tables in the city of Oakland as a minimum wage worker. Relying on your tip income is really frightening – to not be able to rely on a wage is terrifying.”

Oakland resident Dominic Ware supported a $12.25 wage increase as a way of opportunity for young people, saying, “In places like these where the minimum wage is only $8…a way to $12.25 is a miracle and an idea in juvenile minds that maybe those at City Hall do care about us.”

Local attorney and mayoral candidate Dan Siegel is supporting a $15 an hour minimum, citing statistics from the staff report presented at the CED meeting.

“The problems that we’re facing in Oakland are to a very large extent, a function of poverty,” he said. “We need to have a wage policy in Oakland that will allow our workers to get away from a life of poverty.”

The proposal included a survey for business owners.

Michael LeBlanc, owner of Pican restaurant in Uptown, said he is in favor of Reid’s proposal and of continuing the dialogue on raising the minimum wage. He called for an analysis of the minimum wage as a regional issue.

“If the minimum wage were at $15, I could no longer operate here in Oakland,” LeBlanc said.

Currently the minimum wage is $10.74 per hour in San Francisco; $10.15 in San Jose; and $9 per hour in Richmond. President Obama has recommended a federal minimum wage of $10.10.

“Cities are forced into doing things that should be done at the federal level,” said Councilmember Reid. “Congress should approve a minimum wage level so there is some consistency, and so it doesn’t put other cities at a disadvantage. Congress is not willing to do that, so that puts it on the backs of cities.

An economic consultant will be hired to study the minimum wage increase and how its impacts the local economy.

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