Labor Day - Raise the Minimum Wage
By Martin J. Bennett
Across the USA, 45 cities and counties have approved local minimum wage laws to address soaring inequality. Twenty-six are in high-cost California coastal counties and the Bay Area: San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, and San Diego.
North Bay cities are joining the ‘Fight for $15’ movement. Sonoma approved the first citywide minimum wage law in June 2019 and Petaluma passed the second in July.
The current state minimum wage is $12/hr. for large employers with more than 25 workers and $11/hr. for small employers. The overall state minimum wage will incrementally rise to $15/hr. by 2023.
The Petaluma law raises the minimum wage to $15/hr. by January 1, 2020, for large employers, and by 2021 for small ones. In 2021, the minimum wage for all Petaluma employers will increase annually, based upon the cost of living.
A 2018 UCB Labor Center report, on the economic impacts of $15/hr. citywide minimum wage laws in the North Bay, shows that average incomes of approximately 9,000 Petaluma workers (working more than 2 hours a week inside city limits) will increase by $2900 annually. Contrary to the idea that most minimum wage workers are teenagers seeking a toehold in the labor market, the median age of workers receiving a pay raise is 33. On average, these workers contribute half of their family’s income.
Novato, Santa Rosa, Cotati, and Sebastopol are considering $15 citywide minimum wage ordinances and will likely adopt legislation comparable to Petaluma’s.
The Alliance for A Just Recovery, a coalition of every major labor, environmental, immigrant rights, and faith-based organizations in Sonoma County, leads the campaign to introduce minimum wage legislation in all Sonoma and Marin jurisdictions, to establish a regional minimum wage higher than the state’s.
WHY Has the Fight for $15 Exploded Now?
President John F. Kennedy stated in 1963 “A rising tide lifts all boats.” More than a half-century later, only the wealthiest American’s yachts are rising while working families’ rowboats are sinking.
At national, state and local levels, wealth and income inequality now exceed the previous (1928) peak. The upper one percent owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth — more than the combined wealth of the bottom 90 percent.
According to the California Budget and Policy Project, over the last four decades, the average inflation-adjusted incomes of California’s richest 1 percent climbed 125 percent, while those of the bottom four-fifths stagnated or declined. Since the recovery from the Great Recession 0f 2007-2009 began, the upper one percent has pocketed 95 percent of income gains.
Nearly one-third of the Sonoma County workforce belongs to working-poor families, whose incomes are less than $63,000 annually and cannot make ends meet – particularly given the escalating cost of housing.
“The State of Sonoma County 2018,” a report commissioned by North Bay Jobs with Justice and the North Bay Labor Council, shows that between 2000-2016 inflation-adjusted wages remained flat for the bottom 60 percent but declined 11 percent for the lowest 20 percent of wage earners. Over the same time frame, median rents increased by 24 percent but median renter annual incomes rose only 9 percent. After the 2017 Tubbs fire, landlords hiked rents a stunning 35 percent.
Fight for $15 in the States
In 2012 $15/hr. was a pipe dream when New York fast-food workers—earning $7.25/hr.—launched a series of one-day strikes to demand $15 and the right to join a union, with support from the Service Employees International Union.
This grassroots movement by low-wage workers—overwhelmingly immigrants, youth, women, and workers of color—has profoundly impacted public opinion; pressured local elected officials to approve both living wage laws (covering only workers employed by a city and city-contractors) and minimum wage legislation affecting nearly all workers in a city. Now it has ‘rippled-up’ to demand that state legislatures raise the wage floor.
California was the first state to mandate a $15 minimum wage in 2016. Since then, six other states (New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, Connecticut) and the District of Columbia have approved a phased-in $15 minimum wage. States such as Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Washington, New Mexico, and Oregon have approved phasing-in lesser minimum wage increases of $12 to $14.75/hr.
Support for raising the minimum wages crosses party lines. In 2018 large majorities in two red states, Arkansas and Missouri, approved ballot initiatives to phase-in minimum wage increases of $11/hr. and $12/hr. respectively.