Later this morning, at 10:30 AM, a small gaggle of people will gather between City Hall, where City Councilors buried in committee a miserable proposal to raise the minimum wage to $10.20/hr, and the Oscar Grant Plaza amphitheatre, where thousands once gathered at Occupy Oakland to vote overwhelmingly for a General Strike against the one percent.
They will be there to celebrate the announcement of the submission of more than enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative that will raise the minimum wage in Oakland to $12.25 an hour with yearly cost of living increases and paid sick leave.
They will be there to show the power of the people, and to demonstrate that their supposed leaders do not, in any but the most legalistic sense, represent them.
They will be there to stand against income inequality, and to disabuse the notion that the one percent can take it all forever.
Lift Up Oakland says it will present City Clerk @LaTondaSimmons will boxes of petitions to put $12.25/hr min wage measure on the Nov ballot.— Steven Tavares (@eastbaycitizen) May 22, 2014
The ballot initiative was proposed in late January and submitted for title and summary approval quickly thereafter. The Lift Up Coalition, led by activist non-profit organizations ACCE, EBASE and Restaurant Opportunity Center, and unions locals SEIU 1021, UFCW Local 5 and UNITE HERE 2850, were the organizers. An impressive number of labor and activist organizations endorsed the effort.
Ultimately, over 30,000 signatures were gathered (rumors of 35,000+ are in the air), more than enough to all but ensure the required number of valid sigs and thus a spot on the November ballot.
Recent polling has been done on the question of $12.25/hr; the poll sampled likely voters in Oakland and showed nearly 75% support (mysteriously, the exact number was never revealed).
If passed in November - and the polling right now suggests there is little doubt - it would establish, on March 1st, 2015, the highest universal minimum wage in the United States (The small town of SeaTac, Washington has a $15 minimum wage, but it is restricted to a subset of workers there by court order, and the compromise proposal put forth by Seattle's Mayor only gets to $11.00/hr in 2015). The Oakland initiative contains no exceptions - no training wages, no non-profit exemptions, no discounts for teen or disabled labor, no tip credit and no carveouts for small businesses.
Oakland's claim to labor fame could be fleeting. San Francisco, Oakland's big sister across the Bay - which now has America's highest minimum wage ($10.74/hr) - has a ballot initiative in the process of gathering signatures. It would establish a $13/hr minimum wage for all on January 1st, 2015, going up eventually to $15/hr in different increments for small and large businesses. But whether it will make it to the ballot or some compromise will be passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors remains to be seen.
There are two things of importance, lessons to be learned, from Oakland's push to raise the minimm wage.
The first is that the notion is extremely popular; an even higher minimum wage could have been proposed and passed. If more than 70% of voters support $12.25/hr, then without a doubt more than 60% support an even higher minimum, perhaps even as high as $15/hr, but certainly in the range of $12.75 to $13.50. Those pushing for minimum wage increases in other locales need to aim higher, not lower.
The second is that absolute necessity of a ballot initiative, or a credible threat of a ballot initiative. It was only with the realization that there would be a ballot initiative that Oakland's City Council deigned to bring the issue up for consideration (even then failing miserably to anything about it). Berkeley, CA and Richmond, CA activists relied upon their City Councils to pass strong minimum wage increases, but were each betrayed at the last minute.
In Berkeley, City Council member Laurie Capitelli brazenly said "I renege" on a compromise ordinance he himself negotiated but five days earlier, leaving the legislation hanging in the wind. The negotiations were cleverly dragged out long enough to make it impossible to get an initiative onto the November ballot. (Two weeks later a stronger, yet still weak-tea proposal was made, but nothing has been passed and it is all very much subject to further backstabbing.)
In Richmond, an initial 6-1 Council vote to raise the minimum wage significantly turned into a 3-4 vote against the proposal on its 2nd reading. Again, no ballot initiative was waiting in the wings in case the City Council did what it did, and now Richmond's workers are left with what, if anything, City Council members beholden to business interests will give them.
In Seattle, the Mayor is busily trying to water down the proposal his own appointed committee came up with, a proposal already watered down far below the original demands of the 15Now Coalition. 125Now has created a ballot initiative, but its high bar, 50,000 signatures, and its lateness in beginning to gather signatures, raise the question of whether it is a credible enough threat to pressure the City Council not to concede further.
Can Oakland get to $15/hr? The Fight For $15 movement is definitely alive in Oakland; some three hundred protesters shut down McDonald's and then marched across Oakland on May 15th, a National Day of Action for fast food workers.
The Siegel for Oakland Mayoral campaign has continued to demand a $15/hr living wage, nonetheless throwing its volunteers behind the $12.25 signature gathering effort. Siegel noted that $12.25 was "a good first step" while promising that one of his top priorities as Mayor would be to go to the City Council with a proposal for $15/hr. Dan Siegel is the only Mayoral candidate supporting a $15/hr living wage, and only one current City Council member, Dan Kalb, has even verbally expressed support for the notion of a $15/hr minimum. That doesn't seem promising, but then, a year ago, who would have predicted SeaTac passing a $15/hr living wage ordinance or the Seattle City Council considering, even for a minute, a plan to ultimately boost the minimum wage to $15/hr?
As more and more people come to realize that in Oakland, even with $12.25/hr, rent alone will consume far more than half of ones disposable income, the push for a real living wage (and $15/hr. is a bare minimum) can only become stronger.