With the deadline looming to submit a November ballot measure to increase San Francisco's minimum wage, tensions are mounting in the debate to develop an alternative to a proposal by labor leaders that would boost the wage to $15 by 2017.
Mayor Ed Lee and business leaders have voiced support for raising The City's minimum wage, although some businesses are calling for a less aggressive approach, such as $15 an hour by 2020. The Service Employees International Union Local 1021 and supporters moved forward with their own wage effort by filing paperwork for a ballot measure last month.
If the measure is approved by a simple majority, businesses with 100 or more employees would have to pay workers no less than $13 per hour by 2015 and $15 in 2016. For businesses with less than 100 employees, the minimum wage would be $13 an hour by next year, $14 in 2016 and $15 in 2017.
Other elements under debate in the wage issue include having a lower rate for workers who earn tips like in the restaurant industry, a lower rate for new hires for a training period and adjusting the local mandate for health care spending to apply to businesses with 50 or more workers.
Despite the outstanding issues, those involved in the talks, including a working group convened by Lee, are expecting an alternative proposal as early as this week. It could be placed on the November ballot to compete with the measure being proposed by SEIU Local 1021, or a compromise might be reached to create a single measure.
San Francisco has had the highest minimum wage in the nation since voters approved Proposition L in November 2003. Currently at $10.74, the hourly wage has increased every year based on inflation. About 11 percent of San Francisco workers, or about 60,000 people, earned the minimum wage last year. The industries most impacted are restaurants, retail and manufacturing. Nonprofits are also impacted due to in-home supported services and child care providers.
The debate is particularly poignant as San Francisco is experiencing an economic upswing with the strength of a technology industry boom. Median rents have increased at twice the rate of the minimum wage since 2005, records show.
"The business community is supportive of an increase in minimum wage. The question is the timeline," Scott Hauge, a longtime small business advocate, said of the rate at which the wage would increase.
Books Inc. President Michael Tucker said the company, which has six of its 11 stores in The City, made $200,000 in profits last year but if workers' minimum wage had been $15, the business would have gone into the red.
"It's beyond the pale of what most small businesses can handle," Tucker said. On Friday, the mayor, who considers the SEIU 1021-backed measure too aggressive, characterized the ongoing talks as "productive" and reiterated his political desire to have "one single consensus measure."
But SEIU 1021 leaders aren't backing down in their fight.
"We submitted a ballot measure we are very proud of," said Alysabeth Alexander, vice president of politics for SEIU 1021.
The trouble, she said, is that carving out certain classes of workers or categories like training would only lead to confusion and complicated enforcement.
"We think a clear $15 is the way to go," she said.
Union officials argue that an increased minimum wage will be good for the local economy and small businesses by putting money in the pockets of workers who tend to spend it.
The deadline for the mayor to place a measure on the November ballot is June 17.