Waiters at Comal. Photo: Postcard PR
The speed of adoption of an increased minimum wage has faced pushback from some restaurateurs in Berkeley. Photo: Postcard PR

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates today proposed that a number of East Bay cities, including Berkeley, join together to enact a regional minimum wage.

Bates’ proposal comes little more than a week before the Berkeley City Council holds a special meeting on a citywide minimum wage on May 1. Richmond has already had the first reading of a minimum wage ordinance, and a minimum wage initiative for the November ballot is being circulated in Oakland. 

Bates: “Berkeley needs to be with Oakland.” Photo: Emilie Raguso

“There were two major principles in putting this together,” Bates said. “I don’t want to put our businesses at a disadvantage with regard to neighboring communities. It makes sense for everyone to have the same wage. The second thing is that Oakland is the largest city and the city that determines the fate of what the rest of us have to go along with. People tell me that (the Oakland measure) is going to qualify and it’s going to pass. The rest of us ought to tee off that.”

Under the Oakland measure, the minimum wage would rise to $12.25 in May next year, from the state minimum of $9, a 36% increase. That rate would then be adjusted annually to keep up with the local consumer price index.

Minimum wage table

Bates’ proposed regional minimum wage would provide a more gradual path to Oakland’s goals. He proposes an 11.6% increase this November to $10.04, followed by another 11.6% increase in April, 2015 to $11.20, followed by an 11.9% increase in April, 2016 to reach $12.25. Following that, the rate would be adjusted annually with CPI.

The proposal from Berkeley Commission on Labor, which forms the basis for the City Council’s meeting next week, calls for a $10.74 minimum wage this year for businesses with fewer than 50 employees and non-profits (as well as a medical benefit requirement), and an annual CPI adjustment. From 2016, $0.55 is added to the CPI adjustment, until the rate reaches the Berkeley Living Wage, which is currently $13.34 per hour, according to the commission. For “corporate franchises” or businesses with over 50 employees, the commission recommends a minimum wage increase to the Berkeley Living Wage.

Some restaurant owners in Berkeley have been vocal in opposing the labor commission plan, arguing that it raises the rate too rapidly for their businesses.

“The restaurant people will think the regional plan goes too fast, and the people that are supporting the labor commission will think it’s a sell out,” Bates said. “So maybe it’s the perfect position.”

Bates sent the proposal to all elected councilmembers in Oakland, Richmond, Emeryville, Albany and El Cerrito. He said he had discussed the proposal with three Oakland City Council members and one in Richmond.

“The reception from all of them is that they liked the idea of a regional minimum wage,” Bates said. “They all agree that’s the ideal. The question is how do we achieve that.”

“Berkeley needs to be with Oakland,” Bates said. “I believe this $12.25 is going to happen. We’ve just done it in a smarter way. I think it’s a fair proposal, but if no one else joins us, at least we’ll be connected with Oakland.”

Bates said there are other examples of East Bay cities working together. He pointed to the East Bay Public Safety Corridor, the East Bay Green Corridor, the East Bay Arts Corridor, and a regional sports complex.

“The logical thing is to work together with our neighbors,” he said. “All of those are things I started. So why not a regional minimum wage?”

Berkeley Council hears minimum wage increase pleas (04.03.14)
Minimum wage ‘tip credit’ idea gets cold shoulder (06.21.13)
Berkeley considers city-wide minimum wage hike

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...