The public and the labor movement can unite to raise the minimum wage 

The campaigns to raise the minimum wage in San Francisco and Oakland have built an incredible coalition of supporters. Labor unions, community groups, and elected officials are joined by tech companies and business groups in their support of the raise.

It is becoming a consensus in the Bay Area. Economic inequality has gotten out of control; and raising the minimum wage will lift up low-wage workers and benefit our entire community.

This data behind raising the minimum wage makes clear why public support is so strong.

If Proposition J in San Francisco and Measure FF in Oakland both pass, it will give a raise to 190,000 low-wage workers in the Bay Area, according to economists from UC-Berkeley. Their take-home pay will jump by $523 million a year, most of which they will spend in small businesses and local mom-and-pop shops. A majority of the workers who get a raise will be women--and more than half of workers of color will get a raise.

The real policy strength of Minimum Wage for fighting economic inequality is that we have decades of evidence to study. President Franklin D. Roosevelt first passed a minimum wage in 1938. It has been proven to benefit low-wage workers, and strengthen the community, but with little impact on overall employment.

President Roosevelt's legacy also includes the reminders: "I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made."

The Bay Area's Minimum Wage campaigns deserve the same thing. These campaigns have little opposition among local voters and residents.

But the Bay Area's efforts to raise the minimum wage do have some vociferous opponents. Reports have detailed the interests of the Koch Brothers in blocking increases to the minimum wage. These far-right billionaire activists are funding a variety of organizations, some of which have begun attacking the minimum wage online.

Other opponents are even more ridiculous. The National Restaurant Association is associated with a lobbyist nicknamed Dr. Evil--though his formal name is Rick Berman. Dr. Evil has been putting up billboards around California, featuring iPads and Miley Cyrus, to argue against the Minimum Wage. His specific donors are not named, of course.

Now we have spokespeople for something called the Workplace Fairness Institute pushing out paid propaganda attacking the minimum wage. This is another group that operates from the shadows, without any full explanation of what corporations are funding, for what. They are proud, however, to be "affiliated" with Dr. Evil's groups.

And the latest charge being made by this shadowy group funded by other right-wing shadowy groups. That raising the minimum wage will "only be beneficial to Big Labor interests."

Not surprisingly, this is wrong on almost all counts. Most minimum-wage workers aren't in labor unions. Most unions don't represent minimum-wage workers.

The billionaires are right in only one sense. America's labor movement will be strengthened when we pass the minimum wage--whether that is on a regional, a statewide, or a national level.

For too long, low-wage workers have needed someone to speak for them. With union membership declining, all too often these workers are at the mercy of their employers. We've seen the result of that: a crisis of economic inequality.

The public is demanding a raise in their minimum wage. The labor movement will unify with the public and make sure they get it. The right-wing billionaires don't have enough money to hold us back.

Raising the Minimum Wage is not just a recipe for fighting economic inequality--and for lifting up some of the poorest people in the Bay Area today. With labor on the side of the people, and the far-right staking out a position as our enemies, this is a recipe for a resurgent and revitalized labor movement.

Alysabeth Alexander is Vice-President of Politics for SEIU Local 1021.

Pin It

Latest in Guest Columns

© 2019 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation