San Diego Voters Still Need to Support a Minimum Wage Increase in the June Primary
By Doug Porter
A quick read through today’s news might lead the casual reader to believe California is all-but-set to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The Los Angeles Times already has an article featuring interviews with low wage employees and low-margin employers talking about the impact of the proposed increase.
The New York Times, Washington Post and the wire services all have stories about what is really no more than a back-room handshake agreement. Gov. Jerry Brown is set to make an announcement today, and then the sausage-making in the legislature will begin. The promise of more food on the table for as much as 38% of California’s workforce could very easily end up looking like a shit sandwich.
In today’s column, I’ll take a look at what’s been proposed and the forces already at work to derail or water down the deal.
Recently transplanted ex-Voice of San Diego reporter Liam Dillon is already getting the big stories as a Sacramento scribe for the Los Angeles Times. He and John Meyers shared the byline on what could be one of the biggest stories of the year:
The minimum wage compromise ends a long debate between the Democratic governor and some of the state’s most powerful labor unions. For Brown, it’s political pragmatism; numerous statewide polls have suggested voters would approve a minimum wage proposal — perhaps even a more sweeping version — if given the chance.
According to a document obtained by The Times, the negotiated deal would boost California’s statewide minimum wage from $10 an hour to $10.50 on Jan. 1, 2017, with a 50-cent increase in 2018 and then $1-per-year increases through 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have an extra year to comply, delaying their workers receiving a $15 hourly wage until 2023.
Future statewide minimum wage increases would be linked to inflation, but a governor would have the power to temporarily block some of the initial increases in the event of an economic downturn.
How We Got There
A boost in the minimum wage didn’t just fall from the sky. Nor are state legislators negotiating about an increase doing so out of the goodness of their hearts.
The economic pressures driving the popular desire for a higher floor on wages are very real.
A nugget found in an excellent overview of white working class voters who support Donald Trump published in the Guardian sets the scene:
Over the past 35 years, except for the very wealthy, incomes have stagnated, with more people looking for fewer jobs. Jobs for those who work with their hands, manufacturing employment, has been the hardest hit, falling from 18m in the late 1980s to 12m now.
The economic devaluation has been made more painful by the fraying of the social safety net, and more visceral by the vast increase at the top. It is one thing to be spinning your wheels stuck in the mud, but it is even more demeaning to watch as others zoom by on well-paved roads, none offering help.
It is not just about economic issues and jobs. Culturally, we are witnessing a tale of two Americas that are growing more distinct by the day.
In 1968, I helped pay my way through college with a dishwashing job at a BBQ place in Ocean Beach that paid $1.60 per hour. It turns out that was the year minimum wage reached its (inflation-adjusted) historic high. In 1969, I got a union job at Safeway as a bagger. It paid $2.20 an hour. I moved up ten cents (La Mesa to Red Mountain) in my choice of jug wines.
To give you an idea of how things have changed, consider this chart from Buzzfeed, which only dates back to 1976.
Hold That Thought…
There is a fair-to-middling chance promises of increases in California minimum wages are going to run into a buzz saw of well-paid opposition.
The coalition of business organizations created to fight prospective November 2016 ballot measures increasing the minimum wage isn’t just going to go away because Gov. Brown holds a press conference. Some of the reporting on the negotiations leading up this “agreement” indicates that business interests were excused from the table during the final stages.
From KQED, just last week:
A brand-new campaign committee called California Consumers Against Higher Prices is a coalition of a few dozen groups, including the California Restaurant Association, the California Hotel and Lodging Association, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association and the Chambers of Commerce in Los Angeles, Fresno and San Diego.
“These measures are flawed initiatives that have too many unintended consequences,” said Jot Condie, president and CEO of the California Restaurant Association…
…“The campaign will be fully funded,” Condie said. “Mail, social media, radio, TV. We will do everything that is required to have a winning result.”
Here Comes the Doom and Gloom
Over at San Diego Rostra, libertarian maven Richard Rider can hardly contain his dismay (Or is it glee?). There’s even the argument such an increase will lead to an increase of brown people lurking about:
Doubtless automation firms are wildly cheering this step towards the Workers’ Paradise so long sought by progressives. State economic development departments around the nation will also be “popping the bubbly,” delighted with California’s relentless efforts to drive businesses out of the state. This $15 minimum wage pretty much ensures we will expand and deepen our permanent underclass of unemployed in California — with heightened effects on the low skilled and minorities of the state.
That “starter job” to get people on the employment ladder will simply be too high for a very significant part of our young population to reach. It will also encourage the underground economy, as more will seek (and employers offer) “illegal” wages to earn money and stay in business, respectively. Naturally this will make the hiring of illegal aliens ever more attractive to business owners.
FYI– An analysis conducted by economists at Goldman Sachs and the Center for Economic Policy Research found the 13 states increasing their minimum wage in 2014 had higher rates of employment growth than the national average. Assorted studies have found that a higher minimum wage can lead to greater worker efficiency, and lower turnover for businesses. That’s what McDonald’s concluded after examining the effects of raising wages in its company owner stores.
My gut take on all the statistical battles (and, yes, I have read the right-wing studies) over the effects of increased minimum wages is that they are like any other disruption in the economy.
The economy, fortunately, is a lot more elastic than pessimists would give it credit for. If economic expansion continues, there will be more jobs. If not, less jobs. That’s just the way it is.
A National Movement
The immediate importance of California’s politicians and unions reaching a deal on increasing the minimum wage lies in its symbolic value. The actual FIFTEEN DOLLARS part is at least five years away.
Who would have thought that 200 hundred or so pissed off fast food workers in New York city back in 2012 would spark a nation-wide movement?
Over the past few years, activities aimed at promoting public support for increased wages at the bottom of the scale have steadily escalated. Cities around the country passed ordinances. Presidential candidates voiced support (in varying levels). And other issues, like earned sick leave, protections for organizing, and family-friendly scheduling, were added to the mix.
This progress, predictably, has provoked a reaction, as the Washington Post noted today:
Instead of raising the floor for wages and working conditions, a growing number of states have been creating ceilings — preventing increasingly active cities and towns from going above the state level maximum. That’s happened a number of times with the minimum wage, most notably Alabama, which in February passed a measure to block Birmingham’s attempt at raising its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, over the state minimum of $7.25.
The tactic is similar to one being used in several states to “pre-empt” their localities from enacting stricter gun laws, and it’s being employed for other kinds of measures, too. Arizona’s legislature is in a war with its cities over whether they have the right to mandate that employers offer paid sick leave to their workers; the state Senate passed a bill denying state funds to any locality that does so. North Carolina just passed a law barring cities from passing their own ordinances against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Perhaps the most thorough example of pre-emption comes in Tennessee, which a few weeks ago finalized a law preventing localities from enforcing ordinances that require a certain number of local residents to be hired on public construction projects. Such requirements are common in cities across the country that wish to provide jobs for people in the neighborhoods most affected by new developments, and in 2015 Nashville’s voters had approved a measure setting a standard of 40 percent local hires on public contracts.
It should surprise nobody that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the entity behind these moves.
Qualifying for the Ballot Made the Difference
Over the past few months, I’ve been told by organizers with the Fight for Fifteen movement that it was entirely possible for wages would be increased in the legislature rather than at the ballot box.
The announcement last week by the SEIU United Healthcare Workers West that their initiative to raise California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021 had qualified to appear on the statewide November ballot, was a deciding factor in the deal negotiated in Sacramento.
A rival SEIU group has also been collecting signatures for a ballot measure wider in scope and steeper in its incremental increases. It was widely expected the two groups would agree on a compromise measure. And polling shows overwhelming voter support for step increases in minimum wages.
The SEIU-UHCW isn’t rolling over on this until the Governor’s signature is on a bill they can support.
From the Associated Press:
California union leaders, however, said they would not immediately dispense with planned ballot measures.
Sean Wherley, a spokesman for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, confirmed that the SEIU parent union was involved in the negotiations. He said SEIU-UHWW’s leadership will decide whether to push ahead with its initiative that has already qualified for the ballot.
“Ours is on the ballot. We want to be certain of what all this is,” Wherley said. “If some agreement is signed into law, then our executive board would decide what to do. They would only make that decision after any agreement is signed into law.”
Meanwhile, there are mutterings in the right-wing ether about mounting an initiative campaign to overturn the law. I don’t think this is likely to happen, given the number of competing measures out there–some of which are paying up to $12 per signature, according to a VOSD podcast.
What About San Diego’s Minimum Wage Increase?
There is still the matter of the local chamber of commerce’s subversion of the city council’s ordinance on increasing the minimum wage and enabling earned sick days to be considered.
It will be on the June ballot for City of San Diego voters, listed as Proposition I. (As in eye, not one). I asked around this morning about whether or not the statewide deal would impact organizing for this measure and was told “no way.”
They think of the San Diego measure as the First Step towards $15. If passed, San Diegans get a 50-cent boost the next day. And it will go to $11.50 on Jan 1. The state measure under consideration won’t catch up for another year.
So, let’s all drink a toast to the fruits of years of hard work and organizing. This state deal is a MAJOR VICTORY.
And now everybody needs to be vigilant. A man who believes wages are too high is poised to become a serious candidate for President of the United States.
The J in Donald J. Trump Stands for Judas
In Mexico, residents celebrated the Holy Week by burning Donald Trump in effigy.
Here’s Joshua Partlow, reporting for the Washington Post,in Mexico City:
“Whom would you build, if you had to make a monster of mythical proportions? An evil equal to a biblical scourge? A traitor to be burned in effigy whose fiery demise would cleanse our corrupted souls? In Mexico, that would be Donald J. Trump. (J for Judas?).
Or at least a 10-foot-tall papier-mache version of him: eyes wide, mouth agape, with a painted-on business suit and golden mane. On Saturday night, just as every year on the day before Easter, Mexicans gathered on street corners and church squares to celebrate the Holy Week and set fire to their Judases, a popular ritual in this heavily Catholic country. Those demons are typically forked-tongue devils and flaming dragons, and often, like this year, reviled politicians. … All this Judas-burning is a symbolic attempt to destroy evil, a night of catharsis by way of pyrotechnics.”
On This Day: 1898 – The Supreme Court ruled that a child born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrants was a citizen of this country. This meant they could not be deported under the Chinese Exclusion Act. 1968 – Martin Luther King, Jr., led a march of striking sanitation workers, members of AFSCME Local 1733, in Memphis, Tenn. Violence during the march persuaded him to return the following week to Memphis, where he was assassinated. 1979 – A major accident occurred at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. A nuclear power reactor overheated and suffered a partial meltdown.
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