Sacramento is entering the national minimum wage debate.
Mayor Kevin Johnson and other city leaders this week said they want to explore raising the minimum wage in the city, setting up what likely will be a defining political discussion in Sacramento in 2015. Following Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Johnson said he would convene a task force after the first of the year to look into raising the rate above the statewide minimum of $9 an hour.
“We’ve been having a conversation around the city and the country on minimum wage,” Johnson said. “Here in Sacramento, I think it’s time for us to have a conversation on minimum wage.”
Nearly two dozen states, including California, now have minimum pay rates above the federal standard of $7.25 an hour. Increasingly, cities across California and the nation have weighed raising the pay floor even further within their jurisdictions.
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Voters in San Francisco overwhelmingly approved a November ballot measure that gradually will increase the minimum pay rate in that city to $15 an hour by 2018. Oakland voters approved a more modest increase that takes effect next year. In Los Angeles, the minimum wage for hotel employees will be raised to $15.37 an hour next year, while the mayor and City Council are mulling proposals to increase minimum pay for all workers.
Political consultants said the issue is likely to play well in Sacramento.
“Raising the minimum wage sounds like a good populist issue,” said Sacramento consultant Andrew Acosta. “It could potentially be a contentious campaign, but I think it would have a good chance of passing in a city that also supported a sales tax increase (in 2012 to fund core city services).”
Phil Giarrizzo, a political consultant and longtime labor activist, said “the minimum wage movement is an important movement in this town.” As a state capital with a large workforce of unionized public employees, Sacramento’s debate will be closely watched, he said.
“We are the state capital of the eighth-largest economy in the world,” Giarizzo said. “We should be in the forefront of ideas, not the back end.”
Johnson said the City Council will form a task force to explore the issue that will include business representatives and organized labor. Johnson said he would ask the group to look into the timing of a potential hike and whether some job sectors should be exempt. The mayor did not mention a target rate, although some in the labor community have said they want the minimum wage increased to $15 an hour.
“It’s got to make sense for everyone,” the mayor said. “It’s clear there’s no one-size-fits-all and it’s going to take a collective voice in our community (to reach a plan).”
The mayor first signaled his support for an increase in the minimum wage in June at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ annual gathering in Dallas. Johnson, who is president of the group, convened a task force of other mayors to look into ways to combat income inequality. That effort has included a discussion of raising the minimum wage in cities.
Sacramento City Councilmen Jay Schenirer and Allen Warren also have expressed support for increasing the minimum wage locally.
“We need a minimum wage where people who work full time can support their families, and we don’t have that right now,” Schenirer said. “We need to have a conversation that involves labor, business, students and community advocates, and hopefully, we can do something that’s right for Sacramento.”
Warren said he thinks the City Council will act on raising the minimum wage next year.
“People need the ability to take care of themselves, to raise their families, to be appreciated and to be in a workplace where they can work an honest day and receive an honest wage,” Warren said.
Business groups have opposed wage hike proposals in some cities, although there was limited organized opposition to the recent ballot measures in San Francisco and Oakland.
Kevin Greene, director of governmental affairs for the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce, said his organization has not taken a position on raising the minimum wage in the city. But he said some business leaders worry about the prospect of Sacramento trying to match the minimum wage in wealthier cities such as San Francisco and Seattle.
They also worry that a hike in the minimum wage would result in job losses – when the region has yet to fully recover from the recession.
“We have to proceed cautiously and be aware of the potential unintended consequences,” Greene said.
Labor leaders, meanwhile, say they are seeking a new minimum wage rate of $15 an hour for all job sectors and want to see it implemented quickly. Bill Camp, the outgoing executive secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council, said organized labor is prepared to put a wage proposal on the November 2016 ballot.
“Your work is your life,” said Camp. “It’s who you are as an individual, and if people are working, they should be respected.”
Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, said the minimum wage debate has begun to cross political ideologies, citing polls that show a majority of Americans support raising the national minimum wage.
“Politicians are starting to realize that you will oppose a minimum wage increase at your own peril, because the public support on this issue is so high,” Smith said. “While big corporations have done well postrecession, working people are still struggling to make ends meet, and this is one of the few tools we have at this point to combat record income inequality.”
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.
MINIMUM WAGE IN CALIFORNIA
California’s minimum wage became $9 an hour July 1, and the hourly rate will increase to $10 an hour Jan. 1, 2016. What other cities and states are doing:
San Francisco: Residents voted in November to gradually increase the minimum wage from $10.74 currently to $15 an hour in 2018.
Oakland: Residents voted in November to raise the minimum wage from $9 an hour to $12.25 in March.
Seattle: The City Council voted in June to gradually increase the minimum wage over the next several years to $15 an hour, first for large employers and then small businesses.
Los Angeles: Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a minimum wage of $13.25 by 2017, and the City Council is exploring an ordinance that would increase minimum pay to $15.25 by 2019. The council recently enacted a minimum wage of $15.37 for workers at big hotels.
Other states: Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota approved minimum wage increases in November. As of August, 23 states had a minimum wage above the federal standard of $7.25 an hour.