Fifteen dollars an hour.
That’s a figure Mayor Ed Lee said on Tuesday should be explored for the new minimum wage in order to help struggling San Franciscans afford an increasingly expensive city.
With the cost of living — specifically related to housing — front and center in The City, the mayor announced his intent to begin talks about a ballot measure for next year that could increase The City’s minimum wage.
“Having thought about it — and certainly in the last month with a lot of comments from people about affordability in The City — I felt, ‘No on is going to live on $10.74,’” Lee told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday. “Why would we praise that particular amount? I think the only significance is that it would be the highest in the country outside of some airports.”
Lee said his office has already started scheduling meetings with members of the Board of Supervisors and with business groups and others to craft an initiative that is both fair to business interests and boosts wages for workers.
“We haven’t determined what that is yet,” Lee said of an exact number, “but I am going to start the process and I am open. I know that there are voices around the country, particularly the fast-food restaurant employees, that are signaling as high as $15 per hour should be considered.”
Lee said that everyone should be able to unite around the fact that $10.74 is not enough to live on, so that the question becomes what The City can push for — which the mayor said could be anywhere between $11 and $15 an hour.
Jaron Browne, communications director for People Organized to Win Employment Rights, or POWER, said the possibility of raising the minimum wage to any substantial number, let alone $15, would be good news.
As it stands, Browne said, someone would need to work an estimated 4.6 full-time jobs at The City’s current minimum wage to afford a market-rate two-bedroom apartment here.
San Francisco has received much national and international attention in recent months as the improving economy has put pressure on the housing market, leading to an increase in prices, evictions and buyouts as landlords and owners move to capitalize on the market. Many fingers have been pointed at tech, which is one of the fastest-growing business sectors in The City.
Lee signaled that with the improved economy, more needs to be done for lower-income workers.
“I think that if we didn’t do something like that, there would be cause for people to blame others in industries that are making more money as their cause of lack of affordability, and I think that’s divisive,” the mayor said.
But the mayor also acknowledged that there needs to be work done with the business community, which already shoulders costs that include Healthy San Francisco, The City’s universal health care system.
“It is important for The City to help ensure affordability for those who live here, as well as the job creators that sustain the economy,” the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said in a statement to The San Francisco Examiner.
The group also said it will be conferring with members and doing a careful evaluation of the proposal before taking any formal stance.
San Francisco already has one of the nation’s highest minimum wages. The City passed a minimum wage law in 2003 that automatically increases every year to meet cost-of-living changes. In January, it is set to go from $10.55 to $10.74.
PAYING THE PEOPLE
Hourly minimum wage rates vary across the country.
$10.55: San Francisco’s current minimum wage
$10.74: San Francisco’s minimum wage effective Jan. 1
$12.66: San Francisco International Airport minimum wage effective Jan. 1 (currently 12.43)
$8: California minimum wage
$10: California minimum wage effective 2016
$8: New York state minimum wage effective Dec. 31
$9: New York state minimum wage effective 2015
$7.25: Federal minimum wage
$10.29: Santa Fe, N.M., minimum wage
$15: Kings County, Wash., airport worker minimum wage