Letters for the Week of July 31 

Readers sound off on BART financing, Berkeley's minimum wage increase, and more.

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Local restaurateurs also acknowledge these benefits. On MomsRising.org, Nico Sanchez, owner of Platano in Berkeley, writes, "Paying a living wage helps my business because the workers feel respected and don't quit on me, leaving me scrambling for new workers. Also, when morale is high among my wait staff this is reflected in the satisfaction and generosity of the customers." After the minimum wage increased in San Jose in 2012, in an interview with local news channel KPIX, Nick Taptelis, owner of Philz Coffee, noted that, "Team members are actually happier, working harder, and actually giving better customer service, and from that the store actually got busier."

Another common myth is that an increase in the minimum wage would drive food prices up astronomically. According to a recent report from the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley, raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years based on the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 would only increase the cost of food by at most 10 cents per day per American household.  

Moreover, a higher minimum wage would have an immediate impact on the livelihoods of restaurant workers. Kelly, a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay (ROC the Bay) and a Berkeley resident, laments that "the ability of my partner and I to keep the Internet, pay a phone bill on time, or buy food for ourselves and our pets relies on what tips I bring home. Tips cannot act in lieu of a fair minimum wage." Natasha, another ROC member, explains the downside of relying on fluctuating tips: "It is hard to secure a good relationship with a financial institution when your employment is not secure and direct deposits amount to only a few dollars an hour."

A higher minimum wage both in Berkeley and nationally would go a long way toward ensuring that all workers — from large restaurant corporations to small mom-and-pop shops — would have a secure base wage to feed their families, as they feed us daily. It has been four years since the last federal minimum wage increase, and five years since the last statewide minimum wage increase. It is now time to lift the floor for all low-wage workers.

Van Nguyen

Co-Coordinator of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of the Bay

Minimum Wage Increase Is Long Overdue

Four years ago, we saw the federal minimum wage rise to a meager $7.25 an hour. The state minimum wage has been stuck at $8.00 for five years. For a full-time worker, this amounts to just $16,640, far below the national poverty level for a family of four ($23, 550), much less a living wage in the Bay Area.

Over the past three years, our Raise the Wage movement has talked with thousands of Bay Area voters about this issue. When asked if they support an increase in their city's minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, overwhelmingly people say "yes!" On street corners and at grocery stores, there's excitement and support. In community college classrooms, it's not unusual for us to sign up every single student as a supporter, with many volunteering their time, labor, and personal resources to the cause. Last November in San Jose, fully 60 percent of voters in this politically moderate city said "yes" to an increase to $10 for all workers — despite being bombarded with hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars predicting doom and catastrophe if the measure passed.

Why such overwhelming support? Because average voters have a basic sense of fairness. They understand that people who work hard and play by the rules should make a decent living. They understand that the challenges of small and local businesses cannot be solved by squeezing our most vulnerable workers to do more with less. They understand that when you give a raise to a low-wage worker, most of that money goes right back into the local economy.

If you listen to the naysayers, you would believe that poverty is simply an impossible problem to address. But if you talk to the 40,000 working people in San Jose who now have $4,000 a year more to spend supporting their families, you'll hear a different story. You'll hear about having more money to put food on the table, to pay their rent, and to put gas in their cars so they can get to work and school.

We have already proven that we do not have to wait for some distant and watered-down solution from Sacramento or Washington. We can lead the way right here in the Bay Area to provide a high-road model to economic development and anti-poverty measures.

Last April, the Berkeley City Council took an important first step when Mayor Tom Bates introduced a resolution directing the city manager to draft an ordinance that would 1) set Berkeley's minimum wage at $10.55 an hour, and 2) build in an automatic cost-of-living increase pegged to the region's consumer price index. This was a bold measure that matched the progressive values of this city. Mayor Bates' measure passed with a unanimous vote of the city council. Now, the city's citizen Labor Commission is studying the issue, receiving public comment, and preparing its recommendation for council action. A vote could come as soon as this fall.

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