Oakland joins other Bay Area cities in seeking higher minimum wages

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San Francisco isn’t the only Bay Area city looking to bump up its minimum wage rate. Alameda County today [Fri/27] certified a ballot measure that would raise minimum wage in Oakland to $12.25 and provide workers with paid sick days, affecting over 50,000 employees.

The initiative is the result of an effort by Lift Up Oakland, a coalition of workers, business owners, and a collection of nonprofits and local restaurateurs [Correction: The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce is not supporting the measure, as we previously reported]. Having passed muster with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, the measure must be placed on the November ballot by the Oakland City Council.

According to the Lift Up Oakland website, the initiative specifically “sets a base of five or nine paid sick days provided by the businesses, depending on their size” and “requires that the service fees hospitality employers charge go to the workers who provide the services,” in addition to setting a $12.25 minimum wage that includes a provision for annual cost-of-living increases.

Supporters of the measure believe it addresses an issue that has plagued Oakland workers for awhile now.

"Income inequality in Oakland is a crisis. Workers need relief," said Lift Up Oakland President Gary Jimenez in a statement. "Our proposal will help low-wage workers make ends meet. Some business organizations are trying to push a watered-down proposal, but people need to be able to put food on the table today."

Economists at UC Berkeley and experts from the Institute for Women's Policy Research have found that the measure would have numerous important benefits for the Oakland community, according to a statement from Rise Up Oakland. Aside from giving $120 million to workers around the city, the initiative would benefit communities of color and have no foreseeable negative impact on employment. The measure is also wide-reaching—over a quarter of Oakland workers would see their pay increase.

But perhaps even more telling that the economists’ study is the strong support for the initiative shown by Oakland residents. About 45 different organizations and 253 volunteers helped to gather 33,682 voter signatures to put the measure on the November ballot, which goes to show how widely popular it is throughout the city.

Oakland and San Francisco aren’t the only cities looking to improve conditions for low-wage workers. According to Shum Preston of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, there is a strategy in place to expand the proposal to other cities around the Bay Area in what Preston calls a “regional referendum.”

Those other cities are already making progress. Earlier this month, for example, the Richmond City Council agreed to implement a $13 minimum wage by 2018, though certain businesses are exempt from that particular measure. The City Council in Berkeley recently passed the first reading of a similar ordinance, which calls for a $12.53 minimum wage by 2016, and Preston says SEIU is also in contact with activists from Concord, Hayward and Fremont.

With so many major cities on board to improve pay conditions, the message is clear. "Ultimately this is about human dignity," said Burger King security guard John Jones. “We need more money for our people and we need it yesterday."

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