SF becomes first major city with a $15 minimum wage for all businesses

The minimum wage in San Francisco is set to increase by $1 on Sunday to $15 an hour, the highest rate of any major U.S. city.

The increase is part of a growing movement across the nation to address stark income inequalities and the lack of living wages paid to lower income earners. On Thursday, for example, a new law was passed in Massachusetts that will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years.

Seattle’s minimum wage increased to $15 for large businesses last year, but is lower for smaller businesses.

The milestone was celebrated Friday at City Hall in a gathering of labor leaders, community advocates and elected officials. It is the result of voters passing Proposition J in 2014 by 77 percent, a measure placed on the ballot with the backing of the late Mayor Ed Lee and the Board of Supervisors.

The increased pay rate is expected to benefit about 142,000 workers in San Francisco, such as janitors, restaurant employees and domestic workers.

Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, co-sponsored a state bill that passed in 2016 to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 for all workers by 2023. He called San Francisco’s $15 minimum wage an “amazing victory,” but acknowledged it fell short of being a living wage.

“No one who works full time doing a job should ever have to live in poverty,” Ting said. He said efforts to boost workers pay need to continue to ensure people can “have a decent life in the richest city in the richest state in our country.” He noted that “we have the fifth largest economy in the world but we also have one in five people living in poverty in California.”

Ting recalled the opposition to San Francisco’s first minimum wage law in 2003, when The City became the first to raise the minimum wage higher than the federal or state minimum wages and had the highest minimum wage in the nation. Opponents said it was unsustainable and would increase unemployment.

City Administrator Naomi Kelly also addressed critics. “We have a booming local economy and a $15 minimum wage. Those who say we have to choose between economic growth and fair pay are wrong. We in San Francisco have proven these elements aren’t exclusive of each other, in fact they compliment each other.”

Under the Prop. J measure, the minimum wage of $10.74 per hour increased to $12.25 per hour on May 1, then to $13 on July 1, 2016 and $14 on July 1,2017. Now that the minimum wage will hit $15 on Sunday, it will start to increase each year on July 1 by the rate of inflation.

Rudy Gonzalez, executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, said that “we know that it costs a lot more than $15 an hour to survive” and The City needs to “take bold steps” to increase worker pay. He said increasing the minimum wage further should be “on the table.”

Similarly, Joseph Bryant, vice president of SEIU 1021, said, “As great as it is, it is still difficult to live here on $15 an hour. We must continue to push … to make sure that there is a living wage.”

Most immediately, labor leaders are calling on the Board of Supervisors and mayor to approve legislation that would boost the minimum wage to $16.86 for workers covered by the minimum compensation ordinance. It would impact about 30,000 workers, including those at San Francisco International Airport, at some nonprofits and in-home supportive service workers.

Patrick Mulligan, director of Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, whose office is charged with enforcing compliance of the new wage rate, said educational outreach is being conducted to alert businesses of the new wage rate. Enforcement is complaint driven.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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