Council to Consider Minimum Wage Ordinance

By Ken A. Epstein

The City Council next week will vote on an ordinance that would gradually raise the minimum wage for workers in Oakland to $13 an hour in three years and eventually as high as $15 per hour.fastfood1

Contrary to the labor-backed Lift Up Oakland measure, which would go into effect next March, five months after the November election, the City Council ordinance would not have to be approved by voters. It would take effect immediately but spread the wage increases over a number of years.

In addition, the council’s ordinance would exempt or otherwise protect small nonprofits, youth and adult job training programs from the increases. Small businesses with less than 15 employees would have a longer period before the increases kick in.

Council members voted to send the proposed ordinance to next Tuesday’s council meeting, where details would be worked out and voted on. The vote in committee was 3-1 for the proposal, Lynette McElhaney, Pat Kernighan and Larry Reid voting in favor.

Libby Schaaf opposed the resolution, saying she was backing the Lift Up measure.

According to a city consultant, 73.5 percent of the city’s 9,524 businesses employ nine or fewer workers, which represent 14.2 percent of the 195,600 workers in the city.

mcdonald's strikersCouncil President Kernighan said she was sponsoring this ordinance to raise the minimum wage in way that would avoid “unintended consequences” of harming small businesses and result in job loss.

Kernighan and other council members said they had been hearing these concerns from small businesses with less than 15 employees and nonprofits that operate youth and adult job training programs.

Also affected would be programs that hire direct care workers for the frail, disabled and elderly, which might have to shut down because they are paid by federal and state programs that would not raise hourly rates to accommodate a city minimum wage ordinance.

According to members of the Lift Up coalition, the council would not be considering a minimum wage increase if they had not put a measure on the ballot. Now, they say, the council is trying to put together its own measure in order to circumvent raising wages.

In a press release, Lift up says, “The Kernighan/ Chamber of Commerce” proposal would create a loophole for “major chains, (and they) will take advantage of this exemption.”.

“At the Oakland International Airport, Jamba Juice and Subway are individual franchises and have taken the position that they do not have to comply with the Port of Oakland Living Wage policy,” based on a similar loophole, according to the Lift Up statement.

Backing the Lift Up ballot measure, Councilmember Schaaf said, “This is our opportunity to lead and stand up for what is right. That’s without exemption and without delay and without hesitation. We should respect the will of the 33,000” who signed the Lift Up petition to put their measure on the ballot.low wage worker protest

Responding to Lift Up members, Councilmember Reid said, “We are where we are” because the coalition did not come to the council to discuss their proposal prior to putting it on the ballot. “All of us are committed to raising the standard of living of residents in the city.”

“I do not want to be at odds with the coalition,” Reid said. “If you guys had just spread out the increase, I would have supported it.”

It is unclear at present how the differences between the council-backed ordinance and the Lift Up ballot measure will be resolved if they both pass.


Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 25, 2014 (