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Hiking minimum wage in voters’ hands with Prop. J

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Vincent Yu/2010 ap file photo
Fast-food workers and others who make minimum wage stand to make up to an extra $200 a week if Proposition J is passed by voters on Nov. 4.
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As debates continue around the nation over minimum-wage increases, San Francisco voters will decide whether to bump the lowest hourly wage here to $15 by 2018.

For lower-income wage earners that could mean $100 to $200 more a week. It comes as The City's rents have soared to the point where the median rent of a two-bedroom apartment is $4,000 and one study in February said San Francisco's income inequality was the worst than any other city except Atlanta.

The minimum-wage increase, or Proposition J, ballot measure would increase The City's minimum wage on May 1 to $12.25 per hour. The rate would rise gradually each year until it hits $15 on July 1, 2018. Subsequently, the wage would be increased according to the consumer price index.

The measure was placed on November's ballot by a unanimous Board of Supervisors vote with the support of Mayor Ed Lee. They note in their support of the measure that at the current minimum wage of $10.74, “a full-time worker with two children earns less than $22,400 per year, a wage below the federal poverty level.”

When the mayor announced the measure, he said the current rate “just doesn't cut it. That's not enough.”

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“Our city has become more expensive,” Lee said. “Working families, particularly those who earn minimum wage, are struggling.”

Supporters of the measure and a UC Berkeley study estimate that there are more than 100,000 workers earning minimum wage in San Francisco. Since 2005, median rents have increased at twice the rate of the minimum wage in The City, according to a city controller's economic analysis report.

Supporters have raised nearly $400,000 to back the measure. Contributions are largely from labor unions like police, fire and nurses. The mayor's prominent backer Ron Conway, an angel investor, contributed $49,000. On Oct. 1, Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and a tech investor, donated $50,000 to the campaign.

There is no active campaign raising money against the measure. The San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations, which represents various merchants associations, submitted an argument against the measure and say the wage hike would increase consumer costs, result in layoffs and attract more job applicants from outside of The City.

At the time the measure was announced, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which advocates for restaurants, said it was “disappointed” it didn't include an exemption for tipped workers, credit for health and sick-leave costs, and a longer period of phasing it in.

Supporters said they wanted a uniform rate for all workers for equity and easier enforcement.

Wage-theft enforcement is complaint-driven. Between 2004 and 2013, the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement received 643 complaints related to the minimum wage, of which nearly 50 percent were in the restaurant industry and 14 percent in retail and sales, according to a 2013 Wage Theft city task force report.

City government costs would be impacted by the wage hike, according to the city controller, due to contracts with nonprofit and social-service organizations. In 2018, the cost increase is estimated at $56 million.

The proposal on the ballot is the result of a compromise. The mayor persuaded Service Employees International Union Local 1021, the government employees' largest labor union, and other community advocates to drop a proposal that would have increased the minimum wage at a faster rate.

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