McKenna Aiello | Uptown News
San Diego is one step closer to seeing an increase in the minimum wage as City Council voted 6 – 3 on Monday, June 16 to begin negotiations with city employees over Council President Todd Gloria’s proposal to increase the pay rate for minimum wage workers to $11.50 an hour by 2017.
The increase, which could either be enacted as a city ordinance or go before voters on November’s ballot, was downsized from Gloria’s initial proposition to increase the minimum wage 64 percent to $13.09.
The original proposal was met with backlash from some San Diego business owners who felt the three-year incremental increase came on too fast and too soon. This prompted Gloria to release what he called, a “common sense compromise,” where starting on January 2 for the next three years, the minimum wage would increase from $9.75 in 2015, $10.50 in 2016 and $11.50 in 2017. Indexing for inflation would begin in 2019, and like the initial proposal would grant five paid sick days to employees.
“We must work together. We’re going to take care of both sides of the ledger and make sure that the City moves forward,” Gloria said. “With 220,000 people that can positively benefit from this proposal, you better believe that this Council President will continue to push to do what it takes to get this done.”
And greater opportunities is exactly what supporters of the wage increase believe is in store for the 38 percent of working age-households that cannot afford to meet the basic necessities for living in San Diego, according to a 2014 study by the Center on Policy Initiatives, a left-leaning political think tank in San Diego.
“We are struggling day in and day out to be able to survive, pay bills and have a roof over our head,” fast food worker and San Diego City College student Stephanie Veraz said during the City’s Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relation Committee meeting on June 11. “Many of us are forced to be slaves to the one-percenters. This is exactly why we deserve a livable wage.”
“Not all see the potential increase as a positive, though, with opponents of the wage hike claiming that raising the city’s minimum wage above the state’s soon-to-be increase to $10 an hour by 2016 would put San Diego at a competitive disadvantage.
Patricia Conners, the human resources director for local restaurant Phil’s BBQ, said at the June 11 committee meeting that her employees already earn well above the state’s minimum wage, and wouldn’t be able to absorb any additional increases. Instead, Conners said the increase would cost Phil’s BBQ much-needed dollars in the form of increased payroll and employment taxes.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to restaurant owners and operators not to acknowledge and consider the financial risks that business owners undertake to keep their doors open,” Conners said.
Founder and CEO of North Park’s Modern Times Craft Beer Jacob McKean was on of the few business owners at Monday’s City Council meeting in support of the wage proposal, sharing why he believes his business would prosper from an improved local economy.
“The reality is that the average age of a minimum wage worker in the U.S. is 35-years-old. The overwhelming majority of people who will benefit form this measure live in low-income households which spend the vast majority of their income locally and spend a higher proportion of it than any other households,” McKean said. “As a small business owner, I know we’ll benefit from a healthier, more prosperous San Diego.”
But even with the revised proposal, the majority of those in opposition did not seem wavered by the compromise, with business groups and small business owners continuing to express their clear opposition during the City Council meeting’s nearly two hours of public testimony.
Some also offered further revisions to the potential wage increase, proposing a two-tier system where tipped employees would earn the state-mandated minimum wage and non-tipped employees would earn San Diego’s minimum wage. Others proposed that a wage increase should be enacted every other year, giving business owners more time to adapt to the consequences of an increased pay rate.
The City Attorney’s Office and the city’s independent budget analyst’s office said it will look further into these offered solutions as well as hoe much the wage hike could cost the city. Gloria says he will also continue to take input from business owners and community stakeholders as the City comes to a final agreement regarding the proposal.
“There are components of this that I am willing to further amend, but by and large I think what we have here today is a reasonable compromise that willing individuals can support,” Gloria said. “Does it mean everyone will? No, no they won’t, and I think those are the people who will never support a minimum wage.”
The council will now begin the meet and confer process where city officials will meet with labor groups to discuss an ultimate proposition. Any final action from the Council is not expected until July.