Jimenez: Winning the Bay Area’s fight for $15 

When San Francisco passed the nation’s first local minimum wage law more than 10 years ago, it was hard to imagine the impact that it would have.

It’s a lot easier now to see the impact.

The Emeryville City Council recently voted unanimously to raise their minimum wage, becoming the latest victory in the fight for $15. When their bill becomes law, 20 cities will have won higher minimum wages. Many are in the Bay Area, putting us on a path to develop the real first regional standard for wages.

And as more people win higher wages, we can also see the impact that it makes in their lives.

Take Oakland, for example. Fast-food workers, and other underpaid workers, won a hard-earned raise in March from $9 up to $12.25. The impact?

Freddy Martinez, a 20-year-old fast food worker from Oakland, explained: “Now, I can help my brother with school supplies and bring more food home to my family. It is not enough, but it helps.”

It’s not just Freddy, and it’s not just Oakland that is benefitting. San Francisco also voted to raise their minimum wage. All told, 190,000 workers in Oakland and San Francisco will earn an extra $500 million in salary every year as a result.

That $500 million will buy a lot of school supplies and food for a lot of families, often from local businesses. We can directly benefit people struggling in our high-cost region. We know, and all the research proves, that everyday working folks are falling further behind in this economy that just does not work.

These clear benefits are driving public support for the minimum wage. The public overwhelmingly supports it at the voting booth and in opinion polls. In the Bay Area, it’s become a consensus, not just among the public but also labor, community, academic and political leaders.

Given this progress, it is no surprise Emeryville is on the verge of raising its own minimum wage. Those workers deserve to earn the regional standard. The muted response from local business leaders is noteworthy. None are arguing against the policy of raising the wage, but at most are proposing alternative versions. Some small businesses even passed out stickers reading, “I support a $12.25/hr regional wage increase: Fair for E’ville Employees: Fair for E’ville Small Businesses.”

The legislation calls for an immediate raise to $12.25, with steps to $16 per hour by 2019.

The reaction from major employers, like big-box retailers, was even more muted. The Emeryville legislation calls for them to pay their employees at least $14.44. This would be the highest minimum wage that the Ikeas, Targets and Pixars of the world have to pay in the country.

Their response? Silence. No testifying, scaremongering, lobbying or letters. They’ve accepted the consensus on the issue as a business reality. They can afford to pay the higher wage.

That first local minimum wage law from 10 years ago is continuing to benefit more and more workers, in more and more cities, with the protections of higher wages and fairer treatment. We can’t entirely solve the problem of injustice and inequality with a higher minimum wage, but we can take a step in that direction. After all these years, we can see another impact, and that is hope. We are giving hope to underpaid workers and underserved communities that things can get better.

So, here’s to that hope. And here’s to hoping we can win the fight for $15 and fair wages for workers in every Bay Area city, and beyond.

Gary Jimenez is vice president of Service Employees International Union Local 1021, and president of Lift Up Oakland.

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Gary Jimenez

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