City’s enforcement of wage law won’t cost businesses

The City will beef up enforcement of the minimum wage law, but it will no longer ask businesses to foot the bill.

Supervisor Sophie Maxwell had proposed legislation that would have forced businesses to pay an annual fee — as much as $107 a year — to fund more staffing in the city Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, the department in charge of enforcing The City’s minimum wage law. The law requires businesses to pay employees at least $8.82 an hour; the state’s minimum wage is $6.75.

Maxwell’s legislation was opposed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and other business groups who say businesses are already facing higher costs with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s plan to provide free health care for 82,000 residents and a possible gross receipts tax on the November ballot. The chamber is also suing the Board of Supervisors, claiming it’s failing to draft voter-mandated economic impact reports on legislation before voting on it.

Newsom, who said Thursday that he opposed another fee on small businesses, was able to convince Maxwell to cut the business fee from her proposed legislation, scheduled for a Board of Supervisors vote on Tuesday.

In exchange, Newsom agreed to adjust his proposed budget, now under review by the Board of Supervisors, to sink an additional $235,000 into The City’s enforcement of its minimum wage law.

Newsom’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, now includes enough funding for four additional minimum wage enforcement officers, bringing the total to seven, and $97,000 for an outreach campaign.

Since city voters approved a minimum wage law two years ago, the OLSE has recovered $383,524 in back wages for 1,243 workers. But, admittedly, it can be doing a lot more.

“We have a backlog of 35 cases. That number of cases is continually growing,” said Donna Levitt, the OLSE division manager. “I think [the staff increase] will allow us to move through the cases more rapidly.”

As more workers learn about their rights, the number of complaints are increasing, Levitt said. In May 2005, there were five complaints, compared with 11 complaints filed last May, she said.

Maxwell’s legislation would tack on 10 percent interest on recovered wages and permit OLSE to levy a $500 penalty on businesses that refuse to turn over their payroll records, or who retaliate against employees who file complaints.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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