San Mateo City Council Backs Raising Minimum Wage to $15

San Mateo City Council Backs Raising Minimum Wage to $15 

by Paul Burton, Managing Editor, San Mateo Labor

In the city of San Mateo, close to 10,000 service workers, including food prep, janitors, personal care and moving/transportation workers earn a median wage of $21,860—which is at the federal poverty level for a family of three. San Mateo County Central Labor Council Community Services Director Rayna Lehman told the San Mateo City Council November 16, “The minimum wage is too low. A household with two full-time workers earning the minimum wage will take home well under $38,000 per year. Our workers and our children are suffering.”

The San Mateo City Council began the process of raising the minimum wage in the city at its November 16 meeting. All five council members agreed to start setting a process to raise the minimum wage in San Mateo to $15 per hour, and directed city staff to consider further policy options, including enacting living wage standards and expanding prevailing wage requirements to cover private developments.

Connie Juarez-Diroll, a Management Talent Exchange Fellow from the County of San Mateo, presented an overview of efforts to raise wages in the Bay Area and statewide and clarified the differences between the minimum wage, living wage, and prevailing wage.

The city staff report noted that the Federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since July 2009, while the State minimum wage is now $9.00 per hour and will rise to $10.00 per hour on January 1, 2016.

“Living wages raise the minimum hourly wage to a level sufficient for workers to meet the basic needs of their families without public assistance,” Juarez-Diroll said. “Some local governments have laws that establish both living wages and minimum wages. According to the California Family Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard, a family of four comprised of two working adults with one preschooler and one school-aged child would, for example, need to earn an hourly wage of $21.17 [each] or $89,440 [annually] in order to meet basic needs for their family in San Mateo County.”

The staff report defined prevailing wage as “a base pay rate established by State and Federal law to ensure that all construction workers engaged in public works projects are paid adequately for the craft they are working in.” San Mateo adopted an ordinance October 20, 2014 to require payment of prevailing wages for specified public works projects. Council member Rick Bonilla proposed expanding prevailing wage requirements to cover private developments.

Raising the minimum wage

Many Bay Araa cities have established minimum wages higher than the statewide minimum wage, including San Francisco, Oakland, Emeryville, Berkeley, Richmond, San Jose, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Palo Alto. Los Angeles, Seattle, and New York City have also adopted minimum wage increases, while Sacramento is studying a plan to increase the minimum wage and San Diego voters will vote on a ballot measure next June to raise the minimum wage. The cities each have different wage rates and dates for the increases to take effect.

“Within San Mateo County, staff is not aware of other cities that are currently considering local wage requirements including a minimum wage increase,” said Juarez-Diroll. “The County of San Mateo is currently studying the potential adoption of a living wage ordinance that would only apply to County contracts which is similar to other agencies that have implemented a living wage ordinance such as the County of Marin and the County of Alameda.”

The San Mateo city staff report defined low-wage workers as those earning less than $15 per hour, and found that 25 percent of workers in the city earn less than $15 per hour. According to the report, low-wage workers can be found in all industries—technology, retail, restaurants, recreation, and the arts. According to the report, there are also 171 city employees who earn less than $15 per hour—mostly in the Parks and Recreation Department and City Libraries. Council members expressed support for raising wages for low paid City employees as soon as possible.

After the staff presentation, Council members weighed in and discussed phasing in the raises, indexing increases to the Consumer Price Index, and implementing measures to enforce minimum wage requirements. They asked staff for information about how raising the wage for low-paid city workers would impact higher paid workers, what the costs to the City would be, and whether wage raises are phased on or exempt certain types of jobs. Juarez-Diroll said the City staff had consulted with labor groups as well as local businesses and would continue to do so in developing a policy.

Council member Bonilla pointed out that $15 an hour is still too low for a worker to be able to afford to live in San Mateo. “The high cost of living here means that a couple need to each earn $20 an hour,” he said.

Raise the Wage Coalition Speaks Out

During the public comment period, Rayna Lehman from the Labor Council said, “We commend you for being the first city to boldly go where no other city in San Mateo county has gone—to look at raising wages and helping working families in the City of San Mateo who are struggling and need your help now.” She pointed out that a family of three in San Mateo County needs to earn $74,770 to be self sufficient, and that 10,286 households (27 percent) of all households in the City of San Mateo currently earn under $50,000 per year, many with children. “Raising the minimum wage in the City of San Mateo to $15 right now will raise your lowest income workers to $31,200 per year or $2,600 a month,” Lehman said. “It’s not enough, but it is a start.”

William White of United Way of the Bay Area said, “We believe raising wages is one of the strongest tools cities have to lift up workers. This is an expensive area to live in and the city can do a lot to help. The city needs to be on the right side of history and raise the minimum wage to at least $15.

SEIU-United Service Workers West representative Jane Martin asked the City Council to adopt strong enforcement measures. “Look at San Francisco and Los Angeles as models for enforcement and include as many workers as we can,” she said

American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Local 3267 president Melinda Dart said many families in northern San Mateo county are being displaced due to high rents, with multiple families sharing single homes or losing housing. She said many students are homeless and stressed. “We look to you to be the leaders in our county,” she said. “The surest way to lift children out of poverty is to address the cost of housing and to raise wages. Then our students can be healthy, well fed and safe.” AFT Local 1481 president Sergio Robledo-Mazerado  also called for the Council to “lead the charge and spark action in the rest of the county.”

Scott Hochberg of Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto noted that low-wage workers who are exploited do not have the resources to fight back against wage theft. “We need an independent agency,” he said. “And we need effective enforcement and strong penalties such as liens and fines.

Peninsula Peace and Justice Center Director Paul George said his group had worked on the grassroots effort to raise the minimum wage in Mountain View and Palo Alto. He predicted that once those cities study the impacts of raising the wage, “you will see other cities in Santa Clara County start to move to $15 by 2018.” George disputed the notion that raising the minimum wage hurts small businesses. “The increased earnings are spent in the community and local small businesses benefit,” he said. “They also see less turn over of employees. The only opposition we have is from the Restaurant Association, but their business is up in San Jose and other cities where the minimum wage was increased.”

Bradley Cleveland of the San Mateo County Union Community Alliance (SMCUCA) said the Raise the Wage Coalition supports a $15 an hour minimum wage as soon as possible to help families who are struggling to pay for housing, food, transportation, and health care. He cited a UC Berkeley study that showed raising the minimum wage has a “multiplier effect” and boosts the local economy.

San Mateo Labor Council Political Director Julie Lind said the CLC represents 70,000 union members in the county, including over 12,000 in the city of San Mateo. “Over the last two years we have seen cities all around us raise the minimum wage—but not in our County,” Lind said. “You have an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership, and to help the people who work so hard in this city be able afford to live here too. Do this for your constituents, set the example for other cities, and leave an incredible legacy.

Other speakers included Diana Reddy of Peninsula Interfaith Action, two small business owners who supported raising the minimum wage, and Todd Murtha, a technology company CEO who expressed support for raising wages and called for helping day laborers who experience wage theft and exploitation. An owner of a home health care business expressed concern that her labor costs could double if the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour.

San Mateo City Council Backs Raising Minimum Wage to $15

City Council member David Lim said the decision to raise wages is linked to the cost of housing. He said he supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 in steps. Council Member Joe Goethals said he sees the positive effects of raising the wage as money is spent locally but is concerned about the cost to small employers and wants to consider exemptions for tipped employees. Mayor Maureen Freschet said she supported phasing in a wage increase as quickly as possible. She said she was concerned about the impact on small businesses, but, “I didn’t see any members of the business community come out to speak against it.” She said the Council should continue to work with the business community.

Deputy Mayor Jack Matthews commented that cities have to deal with raising the minimum wage “because Congress and the President haven’t.” He said he supports raising the minimum wage to $15 as soon as possible. “It’s a piece of what we have to do,” he said. “We really need to build more housing.” Mathews noted that the cost to the City to raise the wage to $15 now for low paid city workers would be only $60,000. Other Council members expressed support for immediately giving the lowest paid city employees raises.

Council member Bonilla said, “I support going to $18 an hour because people can’t afford to live on $15 an hour now, much less in 2018.” Bonilla said workers also need to be able to take sick time off. He said raising the minimum wage would boost the local economy. The former Carpenters Union representative said it is important that a minimum wage ordinance has strong enforcement measures. “I recommend that we pass an ordinance to raise the minimum wage,” he said. “And I still want us to look at a living wage ordinance and expanding prevailing wages.”

City staff will continue to work on a plan, and the Council will take action at a future meeting.

William White of United Way of the Bay Area addressed the San Mateo City Council, saying, “This is an expensive area to live in and the city can do a lot to help. The city needs to be on the right side of history and raise the minimum wage to at least $15.”

AFT Local 1481 president Sergio Robledo-Mazerado called for the Council to “lead the charge and spark action in the rest of the county.” Photos by Bradley Cleveland.