Richmond is headed for a new record: the highest minimum wage in the Bay Area. The plan is for a minimum wage of $12.30 per hour to be phased in over the next four years. The City Council voted 6-1 to pass the first reading of the ordinance with Councilmember Tom Butt voting no.
Three different proposals for a minimum wage increase were on the agenda at the Tuesday meeting, including raises to $11 and $15 per hour.
The current federal minimum wage is $7.25, and the state rate is $8. The state hourly wage is set to increase to $9 in July and $10 in 2016. San Francisco’s minimum wage jumped to $10.74 on New Year’s Day, making it the highest in the region. San Jose follows at $10.15.
If the second reading of the ordinance passes next month, the first wage hike to $9.60 per hour will go into effect January 2015, with successive jumps to $11.52 in 2016 and $12.30 in 2017.
Responding to pushback from local business, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said this gradual phase-in gives business owners time to adjust.
“Those businesses we want to come are businesses that value paying a decent wage,” said McLaughlin. She then quoted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous statement from 1938: “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.’”
The council had questions about the ordinance and asked the City Attorney to make some changes; they asked him to include an exemption for the summer youth jobs program. A plan to exempt new businesses was scrapped after concerns about fairness.
Around two-dozen speakers signed up to comment on the hike. Many in attendance held up yellow printed signs saying, “Raise minimum wage.”
“They could have given us $15 easily,”said Pam Davis with OUR (Organization United for Respect) Wal-Mart. The group is made up of current and former Wal-Mart employees who are working to try and convince the retail giant to provide more full-time jobs with fair wages so that workers can support their families.
“It’s a win, but we are going to keep fighting for more. The way it is now, a single person will still be in poverty for a couple more years,” Davis said.
Wal-Mart did not send a representative to the meeting. In the national fight over President Barack Obama’s proposed minimum wage increase, Wal-Mart has said it is remaining “neutral.”
Galaxy Desserts CEO Paul Levitan said a $15 minimum wage could force him to consider relocating elsewhere when he’s ready to expand his company, which employs over 200 people.
Councilmember Butt said that there should have been more consultation with the business community in Richmond, and that he disagreed with the council’s decision to take the wage hike off the November ballot.
Ballot measures are very difficult to cancel out, said Councilmember Jim Rogers, and he said that the ordinance gives the council greater flexibility to respond to issues that might show-up as the rollout of the wage increase moves forward.
“There’s the opportunity, if there are unintended consequences, we can take a look at it and change it,” Rogers said.