Public debate over boosting Sacramento’s minimum wage above the statewide requirement began this week as business and labor representatives showed up at City Hall for the first of four public meetings on the issue.
The Wednesday evening meeting was held by a new task force that Mayor Kevin Johnson has convened to study the possibility of raising the wage, which in Sacramento follows the state minimum of $9 an hour.
The group has been asked to provide the City Council a recommendation on raising the wage. Councilman Jay Schenirer, co-chair of the group, said the task force will likely have a report in late October, after seeing whether a state bill to bump the wage to $11 in January and $13 by 2017 becomes law.
A handful of California cities in recent years have decided not to wait for the state. In San Francisco, Los Angeles and Los Angeles County, minimum hourly pay will hit $15 in the next few years. Oakland raised its minimum wage to $12.25, with annual cost-of-living increases. Other cities have posted more modest increases.
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Earlier this month, the University of California joined the movement, saying it will gradually raise the minimum wage for its employees to $15 an hour.
A crowd of about 150 attended the city’s meeting on Wednesday, hearing presentations on low-wage workers from United Ways of California and Min Li, a business professor in California State University, Sacramento.
During an hourlong public comment session afterward, the task force heard from local restaurant owners and minimum-wage workers.
Owners of independent businesses expressed concern that rising wages would hurt their businesses and their ability to employ people, especially as they adjust to California’s recent wage boost to $9 and its upcoming rise to $10 in January.
“Twenty-two employees will be without jobs, I can tell you now, if this goes to $13, $15 an hour,” said Phil Courey, owner of the Greek restaurant Opa! Opa! “Why is it that small businesses in this country have to shorten the gap, the income gap? I’m struggling myself. I have needs, and I have expenses as well.”
Jessica Hardacre-Gianas, an attorney representing the craft beer industry, said many breweries in Sacramento already pay above the current minimum wage, and a raise for the remaining workers would drive businesses and jobs out of the area.
Workers also took the stand, often with applause from audience members representing the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the Service Employees International Union. They said the current minimum wage is not enough to live on, and spoke about not having enough money to both pay their bills and raise their children.
Jennifer Alejo, a Northern California organizer of the national Fight for 15 campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, called on Sacramento to “join the momentum.”
The minimum wage was recently raised to $12.25 an hour in Oakland and Emeryville. San Francisco’s minimum wage will reach $15 an hour in 2018, and Los Angeles’ will reach $15 by 2020.
Schenirer said the group will hear more public input and analyze case studies of small businesses, presentations from the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and potential exemptions for a wage raise.
The task force’s next meeting will be held next Wednesday.