A Friday morning special council meeting with low attendance. Photo: Lance Knobel
The late-notice, Friday morning special council meeting drew lower-than-usual attendance. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley City Council unanimously approved a new law Friday that will see the city’s minimum wage increase to $15 in 2018.

The vote came during an unusual Friday morning special session of the council, after weeks of negotiation to resolve a battle between two competing minimum wage ballot measures. One of those, the council-approved Measure BB, would reach $15 by 2019; the other, labor-supported Measure CC, would reach $15 in 2017.

Read more about the minimum wage on Berkeleyside.

“This is a consensus document,” said Councilman Laurie Capitelli, who said it involved 40 or 50 hours of meetings over the last few weeks. “I don’t consider it a compromise document.”

The new law will make Berkeley one of the first jurisdictions in the country to reach a $15 an hour minimum wage. San Francisco will reach the $15 mark on July 1, 2018. Berkeley’s $15 wage starts on October 1, 2018.

Councilman Laurie Capitelli. Photo: Emilie Raguso
Councilman Laurie Capitelli: ‘Moving in good faith together.’ Photo: Emilie Raguso
Councilman Laurie Capitelli: ‘Moving in good faith together.’ Photo: Emilie Raguso

“We’re at the beginning of a movement,” said Councilwoman Linda Maio. “This is like a locomotive going forward, and it’s about time. The federal minimum wage is scandalous.”

“This is a good first step, but I do want to see a pathway to a living wage in the future and I’m committed to making that happen,” said Councilman Jesse Arreguín. Measure CC provides annual increases of CPI plus 3% until the City Living Wage is reached.

Mayor Tom Bates said that “even the living wage is hard to live on” in Berkeley. Together with other council members he said it was important to get coordinated regional action on reaching a living wage.

Public comment at the special meeting was nearly unanimously laudatory about the agreement, a rare phenomenon at council meetings often marked by rancorous comment.

“This is a very important step in ensuring that Berkeley workers can earn a living wage for hard work,” said EBMUD board member and labor lawyer Andy Katz, who was instrumental in bringing labor leaders and council members together to achieve the compromise. “You will participate in avoiding having a divisive ballot campaign this autumn.”

“Good jobs that pay a decent wage is part of what makes a neighborhood sustainable,” said Tim Frank, director of the Center for Sustainable Neighborhoods. “We’re proud of Berkeley having stepped into a leadership position.”

Capitelli and other council members singled out Katz and state senate candidate Nancy Skinner as key forces in maintaining pressure for compromise. Many council members and residents who commented at the special meeting were concerned about the dangers of dueling measures on the November ballot.

Both measures will in fact be on the November ballot, but labor advocates, business lobbyists and council members all said they would engage in a so-called “no-no campaign,” to ensure the defeat of both measures. The council hopes to get a judicial ruling on changing the arguments in the measure to make clear there is a unified voice against passage.

“I think it can be done,” Capitelli said about ensuring the success of the no-no campaign. “A lot of people in Berkeley read the voter handbook. I think at this point I feel the BB folks and the CC folks are moving in good faith together.”

Council plans special meeting on minimum wage (again) (08.25.16)
Council cancels special meeting on minimum wage (08.11.16)
Special Berkeley council meeting announced to vote on compromise minimum wage (08.10.16)
Berkeley Council approves alternative minimum wage measure for ballot (06.15.16)

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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...