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Minimum wage increase stalls

on April 16, 2014

Richmond’s effort to pass a minimum wage hike has stalled. A general increase to the minimum wage gained support from the city council on March 19, but the proposed ordinance failed to pass a second reading after some councilmembers felt the wage hike deserved more input from small businesses.

Councilmembers Corky Booze, Nat Bates, Tom Butt and Jim Rogers said the issue required further study and input from businesses in Richmond.

If passed, the ordinance could have made the city’s minimum wage at $12.30 the highest in the state. Ken Jacobs, head of the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center, said Richmond would be the 10th city in the country to pass a local minimum wage law. But the issue isn’t dead, and the council plans to reconsider it in future sessions.

Neighboring cities Oakland and Berkeley are also considering minimum wage hikes. San Francisco’s minimum wage of $10.74 went into effect on January 1. California’s state minimum wage is set to increase to $9 in July.

“There’s quite a bit of momentum out there and many cities are looking at this now,” Jacobs said. “By the time you get to 2017, the difference between Richmond and the rest of the state won’t be that big.”

At the city council meeting on Tuesday night, one small business owner, Louis Buty of American Textile and Supply, Inc., which employees 28 people, said the wage hike would put him at a serious competitive disadvantage. He said council has not done enough to inform business owners of the ordinance.

“We just got wind of this.” Buty, said, adding that he might have to lay off employees or move his business to another city. “People have been with me 20 years, I feel obligated to keep them employed,” he said.

Councilmember Nat Bates asked why the ordinance needed to be passed right away; the first wage hike to $9.60 wouldn’t go into effect until January. “Let’s kick this thing over for a few weeks,” Bates said. “There’s no urgency in it.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles and Councilmember Jael Myrick, who co-sponsored the item, argued that passing the ordinance now would signal council’s intent and allow businesses ample time to adjust.

“There is an urgency,” Beckles said. “People are struggling.”

Councilmember Tom Butt voiced concern that McLaughlin, Myrick and Beckles were rushing ahead without allowing time for appropriate discussion by the council.

“I’m just resentful about this,” Butt said. “Try to bring council along. Try to educate people.”

In the end, the council voted to discuss the item at next week’s study session. The ordinance will be brought back to the city council for a first reading in early May.

Stephen Ramm, owner of Palace Furniture on Macdonald Avenue, said the council made the right decision to delay the ordinance vote. He said the effects the hike will have on business owners should be considered before it is passed.

“The cost of the minimum wage hike will be passed on to the community. We are trying to come together and make sure we have a voice,” Ramm said.


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