Minimum Wage Grows in California’s Emeryville


The Golden State’s minimum wage of $9 an hour is going up in Emeryville, population 11,000, in the San Francisco Bay Area, to an eventual hourly rate of near $16, the highest in the US. On a 5-0 vote, the Emeryville City Council approved a minimum-wage ordinance on May 5.

The Emeryville minimum-wage ordinance will raise workers’ pay in small businesses, employers with 55 or less employees, to $12.25 hourly on July 1. Large employers with over 55 workers will earn $14.44 an hour on July 1. Both wage scales will equalize in 2019 near $16, and rise thereafter, with yearly cost of living hikes.

The eligible Emeryville workers will also earn paid sick leave, six to nine days annually. That stands in contrast to the “no work, no pay” trend of millions of low-wage workers, given the lack of federal legislation mandating such a benefit.

Up to 5,000 Emeryville workers out of a labor force of 20,000 will see a rise in their minimum-wages on July 1, according to Jenny Lin, deputy director of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

Ruth Atkin is the mayor of Emeryville. “With income inequality out of control, we need to lift the floor for low-wage workers so if you work full-time, you don’t need public assistance,” she said in a statement.

Voters in nearby Oakland and San Francisco decisively approved initiatives to raise their cities’ minimum wages for over 190,000 workers last November.

On May 19, the Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 to increase the minimum wage from the current $9 to $15 an hour by 2020, more than double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25.

A third of California workers, 4.77 million people, earned less than $13.63 an hour in 2014, up 30% versus 2000, according to a recent report from the University of California Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

Emeryville, a city in Alameda County, had a previous life as an industrial town, e.g., iron works and meat-packing. Those days are gone, unlike workers’ reliance upon their hourly pay to make ends meet.

Today, service industries dominate employment in Emeryville. Examples range from fast food to hotels, janitorial services and retail outlets such as Home Depot and Ikea.

The Emeryville minimum-wage ordinance is part of the push from low-wage workers and their allies seeking economic justice. Think Occupy Wall Street to the “Fight for $15” an hour and Our Walmart workers’ campaigns for higher pay.

The Service Employees International Union has financially supported the Fight for $15 across the US. SEIU 1021 backed the Emeryville minimum-wage ordinance.

The cooperation of advocacy, community, labor and religious groups propelled the passage of the Emeryville minimum-wage ordinance, according to Lin of the EBASE.

Rabbi David Cooper at Kehilla Community Synagogue is part of that broad-based support. He sits on the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy’s Advisory Committee, a project of EBASE.

Immanuel Ness is a political science professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and author of New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism (PM Press, 2014).

“The new Emeryville minimum-wage ordinance is a significant victory for working people in the Bay Area and Northern California as trade union organizing is fiercely opposed by big business,” Ness said.

“Certainly the high cost of living in the Bay Area is a major factor pushing the demand for higher wages, but to sustain these important labor-community victories on the local level, it is necessary for broader worker organization in the fast growing retail and fast food sectors. To extend these wage gains nationally, trade unions will have to organize hundreds of thousands of new members to demand higher wages as more workers than ever before earn near the federal minimum.”

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2015

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