Outgoing executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council Bill Camp told the Sacramento Business Journal on Wednesday that local labor leaders will ask voters in Sacramento and Davis to approve a minimum hourly wage of $15 in 2016.
He told the journal, “We will get $15 an hour when you get a president on the ballot.” He added that he believes that if Sacramento approves the measure, other cities and the state will follow.
The state came close in June to passing a $13 an hour minimum wage, only to have it die unexpectedly in the Assembly labor committee.
Senate Bill 935, authored by Senator Mark Leno, would have raised the minimum wage in three steps, starting at $11 an hour in 2015 and increasing an additional $1 per hour in both 2016 and 2017. Beginning in 2018, the minimum wage would be adjusted annually to the rate of inflation. SB 935 was co-sponsored by the Women’s Foundation of California and SEIU (Service Employees International Union) California State Council.
“Increasing the minimum wage is critically important to millions of hard-working Californians and their families who live in poverty and are forced to rely on the state’s social safety net programs despite being employed full time,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco who sponsored the legislation along with Assemblymember Luis Alejo. “By giving low-income workers the pay and respect they deserve, we will also address the growing inequality within our communities, which is a roadblock to economic recovery and a drain on already limited taxpayer resources.”
The Sacramento Business Journal reports that the Sacramento City Council will propose a citywide minimum wage law, but no dollar amount has been proposed, and Mayor Kevin Johnson “has not taken a position on a local law, but called last month for a working group to study the issue.”
Mr. Camp told the journal that they would attempt to gather signatures to qualify for the ballots of Sacramento and Davis.
The law would contain three provisions. First, it would be phased in to avoid disrupting local economies. Second, “No population could be excluded from earning $15, including youth and nonprofits.” Third, “The new minimum wage would include an automatic cost-of-living increase.”
Earlier this year, an effort spearheaded by a group called Raise the Wage Davis fell short of putting a similar $15 per hour minimum wage on the ballot for this November’s ballot.
In April, the group conceded that they would fall short.
“It’s our hope to collect 7000 signatures by May 1. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that we’re going to make that deadline,” Bernie Goldsmith acknowledged to council in April. “Our efforts started around a kitchen table on January 11; since then, we’ve made a bit of a splash locally.”
“It is our hope to raise the minimum wage in Davis to a living wage,” he said. “I’m sure that many of you have read the Enterprise and it has had some opinions about our efforts. The Chamber of Commerce and local businesses have had some opinions about our attempts to engage the community.”
“One of the goals of this campaign was to start a public debate on what it would mean in this town to say as a moral proposition that no one who works full-time here should have to live in poverty,” he continued. “To contribute to this discussion, we’ve discussed engaging several academics, economists to produce a report on what a $15 minimum wage would look like to the economy of Davis, to the everyday worker of Davis, to the businesses of Davis. What the impacts would be.”
The proposal generated immediate pushback from the Davis Enterprise as well as some in the business community.
In an editorial the Enterprise argued that “Davis businesses should not be saddled with a $15 minimum wage,” and that “good intentions don’t fund the payroll.”
The Enterprise notes, “If it lands on the June ballot, and gets approved by Davis voters, the measure would set the minimum wage at $11 an hour in January 2015, $13 in July 2015 and $15 at the start of 2016. At that point, the minimum wage would be 50 percent higher than the state rate of $10, with further increases linked to inflation.”
The Enterprise did note, “We oppose a city-by-city approach to the minimum wage. The state is the appropriate place for this change to occur.”
Meanwhile the Business Journal notes that in late November, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento “called for a task force to explore a timeline for implementation of a new minimum wage as well as possible exceptions for youth workers and nonprofits.”
The Sacramento Metro Chamber has not taken a position on a local measure “because nothing has been proposed.” The journal reports, “Kevin Greene, the Chamber’s director of government affairs, said that $15 an hour was too high for a region that — unlike San Francisco — hasn’t fully recovered from the economic downturn.”
“We don’t have the strength of economy of places like Seattle and San Francisco,” he said. “A $15 minimum wage could be very damaging to business in Sacramento, decimate the fragile economic recovery and inhibiting efforts to revitalize downtown.”
Meanwhile, Roger Niello, the outgoing Metro Chamber CEO said, “They’re worried about unintended consequences.” He told the journal, “It’s a multifaceted issue. I just don’t see how a simple ballot measure put forth by unions could take into consideration those unintended consequences.”
In November, San Francisco’s voters approved a measure to raise that city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018 while Seattle’s city council adopted a similar measure earlier this year.
According to the Sacramento Business Journal, Mr. Camp disagreed with the concerns of the chamber and argued “that a $15 wage would result in a spike in local consumer spending.”
Mr. Camp argued that the “most efficient, most experienced” workers would flock to Sacramento and Davis, which would help employers.
“The chamber of commerce and labor movement agree on a fundamental principle: What drives economic growth is high skill, high wage jobs,” Mr. Camp stated. “You don’t get that if people are struggling at $9 an hour.”
In Davis, the push to put a $15/hour minimum wage ordinance on the ballot stalled after it generated a lot of controversy and concern.
Proponents argue, “It’s time to bring a $15/hr minimum wage to Davis. We can change things. Right now, the minimum wage is just $8 per hour. This translates to less than $17,000 per year. We’re trying to put an initiative on ballot for a $15 minimum wage in Davis. This ensures that nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty.”
But opponents are quick to cite data that many minimum wage earners are not the primary wage earners in their family. And that most minimum wage earners are young.
One thing seems certain. Even amid turnover among business and labor leadership locally, this issue is only going to gather steam in 2015.
—David M. Greenwald reporting