A longer version of this article, written by Paul Burton, appears in the August 2016 edition of San Mateo Labor
After over 18 months of work, the Raise the Wage Coalition scored a major victory July 18 when the San Mateo City Council moved to raise the minimum wage to $15 by January 2019. If the ordinance passes at its second reading in August, the first wage hike — to $12 — will go into effect January 1, 2017, with two additional raises of $1.50 an hour in 2018 and 2019. Beginning in January 2020, the minimum wage will rise based on the increase in the metropolitan region’s Consumer Price Index.
San Mateo would become the first city in San Mateo County to require a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage, which is currently $10 per hour and set to increase to $15 by 2022. San Mateo’s minimum wage increase also differs from California’s by not deferring the wage increase for employees working at small businesses. All businesses in the city will be treated equally, though nonprofit charitable organizations will have an additional year to reach $15.
Bradley Cleveland of the San Mateo County Union Community Alliance said the coalition plans to work with San Mateo city staff on the implementation and enforcement of the ordinance. “We have suggested that the city work with local nonprofit groups to ensure that all low-wage workers know their rights,” he said.
At the Council meeting, Kathy Kleinbaum of the City Manager’s office presented three different options discussed at previous meetings—each with different rates of increase and dates when the wage would reach $15. She noted that, “San Mateo’s minimum wage will be permanently higher than the state minimum wage. Local enforcement will need to be done annually.” Ultimately, the option first offered by Councilmember Bonilla got the most traction.
During the public comment period of the meeting, incoming San Mateo County Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Julie Lind Rupp thanked the council members for their efforts toward raising the standard of living for the lowest paid workers in San Mateo. “With the cost of housing on the Peninsula continuing to rise and San Mateo County earning the distinction from the Economic Policy Institute of having the largest income gap of all counties in California, this work is particularly timely,” she said.
“It is for these reasons that we urge you to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019 for all businesses operating in the city. Requiring all businesses, regardless of their size, to pay the same wage is more equitable for both the businesses and their employees, and will be easier to enforce. Further, we agree with the staff recommendation that the annual wage increases should take place each January, beginning in 2017.”
Lind Rupp asked the City to “index the local minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index for this metropolitan region, with the first CPI increase going into effect January 1 of 2020 for both businesses and nonprofits, and annually thereafter. This is an amendment to the timeline presented by staff, as it is our position that CPI should adjust a calendar year after businesses hit $15 and simultaneously with the final step for non-profits. This will prevent the vast majority of the workers in San Mateo from having a two-year wage freeze, and will still maintain parity between the two groups of workers.”
Outgoing Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Shelley Kessler said the City should have a dedicated staff person to oversee the implementation of the ordinance. “Enforcement is best handled by a city employee,” she said. “When you have accountability at the most immediate level, the opportunities for enforcement are greatly enhanced.” Kessler said outsourcing a complaint-based program would be problematic, and an ongoing local audit of the ordinance would be a better way to clear analyze of if the ordinance is being enforced.
Speaking on behalf of the United Way Bay Area, Rayna Lehman said the organization is a partner member of the Raise the Wage Coalition and supports the proposal raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2019, including all business, and initiating CPI increases in January 2020. “Poverty is a complex issue that requires a complex solution,” she said. “One piece of that is a vibrant economy with well-paying jobs for all—ensuring that everyone can afford critical basic needs including food, shelter and health care.”
“United Way agrees that using local, San Mateo community based organizations with cultural and linguistic expertise for outreach and education will be most effective,” she added.
Laurel Fish of UNITE HERE Local 2 said the union supported $15 by 2019. “At the current minimum wage, workers have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet and many families are being forced out of the city and the county because of the combination of high rents and low wages,” she said. “You have the ability to make a decision that can improve the lives of working families.”
Council member Diane Papan said the city tried to work with both sides and craft a fair measure. “Folks on the labor side did say they understand small businesses’ concerns. We did a lot of work to tweak it and make it more palatable.”
Mayor Joe Goethals called the measure passed July 18 a compromise and “a step in the right direction for San Mateo workers, the folks who are the lowest paid employees. It’s the protection that they need right now. Wage theft and labor trafficking is a very serious issue and I expect us to enforce this.”
Councilmember David Lim said the measure was “a reasonable compromise that addresses the most fundamental needs of low paid workers by helping them be able to afford to live in this area that has the highest cost of living in the state, if not the country.”
The City Council must vote on a second reading of the ordinance at its next meeting, August 15, before it goes into effect.