Minimum wages in the San Francisco Bay area city of Emeryville are set to incrementally rise over the next five years, reaching $16 an hour by 2019. City authorities say the recently adopted decision serves the common good, brushing off business concerns.
Situated between Berkeley and Oakland, across the bay from San
Francisco, Emeryville has a population of just over 10,000 in
about two square miles of territory. “We’re in the middle of
a very large, high cost-of-living metropolitan area,” Mayor
Ruth Atkin told RT.
Atkin explained that Emeryville adopted a minimum wage – indexed
for the cost of living in 2006 – for city employees and
businesses that contract with the city. Currently, that wage is
$14.44 per hour. That is expected to rise to $16 by 2019, indexed
for inflation. The initiative adopted last week would gradually
extend that minimum wage to all businesses in the city, making it
the highest minimum wage in the US.
Under the proposal, businesses with more than 55 employees would
have more time to implement the wage hike. Seattle adopted a
similar two-tier system in 2014, making 500 employees the
dividing mark between “small” and “large” enterprises. The
International Franchise Association has objected, suing Seattle
under the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection under the
Emeryville authorities admitted they sought to harmonize the
wages of local businesses with those in the neighboring
“To be able to pay workers depending on which location they
work at was kind of ridiculous,” mayor Atkin said, citing
the example of a restaurant with locations in San Francisco,
Oakland and Emeryville.
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Restaurants and similar businesses, she acknowledged, were
“already wondering how they will maintain their small margins
and still be able to exist,” and will most likely add
service charges and other ways of passing the cost to the
consumer. “Time will tell,” said Atkin.
A February 2014 report by the Congressional Budget Office
(CBO) cautioned that while raising wages would “increase
family income for many low-wage workers, moving some of them out
of poverty,” some of the jobs for low-wage workers would be
eliminated. The income of those losing their jobs would “fall
substantially,” and the employment rate of low-wage workers
“would probably fall slightly.”
Raising the federal minimum wage to $9 per hour would result in
the loss of up to 200,000 jobs, while pushing it to $10.10 might
eliminate half a million jobs, the CBO said.
Most of the April 2015 growth in employment – 223,000 jobs –
according to the Department of Labor – was in part-time jobs,
construction and low-wage service industries, while manufacturing
and mining sectors have seen a contraction.
Established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1938, the
original minimum wage was 25 cents per hour. The current federal
minimum wage stands at $7.25 and has been unchanged since July
2009. Many states and localities around the US share Emeryville’s
concern that the wage floor has not kept pace with inflation and
have passed minimum wage increases.
Labor protests under the banner of “Fight for 15” – meaning, a
$15 minimum wage – have been sweeping the country for months. At
the forefront of the protest are the low-wage workers in the food
and hospitality industry.
“The primary goal of all this is to lift the floor of poverty
for our lowest-paid workers,” Atkin told the San Francisco Chronicle last week. “This
is a policy for the common good.”