Supporters of higher minimum wage in capital seek compromise as vote looms

Proponents of a higher minimum wage gather for Oct. 13 Sacramento CityCouncil meeting.
Proponents of a higher minimum wage gather for Oct. 13 Sacramento CityCouncil meeting. Jose Luis Villegas

Proponents of an embattled plan to raise Sacramento’s minimum wage are rushing to craft a new compromise in advance of Tuesday’s scheduled City Council vote, but it is far from certain that a deal can be reached.

The plan would gradually hike the minimum wage in the city to $12.50 an hour by 2020, but a fragile and legally questionable compromise over the treatment of restaurant and retail workers has essentially unraveled in the past few weeks. Major business groups have urged the City Council to reject the plan in its current form. Two labor groups have threatened to sue the city if the plan is enacted.

Against that backdrop, City Councilman Jay Schenirer, author of the proposal, said Monday he hopes to bring a new compromise proposal to a vote Tuesday evening.

“We’re continuing to talk to all of the stakeholders,” said Schenirer, co-chairman of the task force launched by Mayor Kevin Johnson over the summer to explore a higher minimum wage.

Schenirer wouldn’t go into detail but said “we’re working on a number of options that hopefully we can agree on.”

The city is wrestling with its plan at a time when other major California cities are already moving ahead with minimum-wage hikes. San Francisco’s minimum wage will go to $15 in 2018, while Los Angeles is phasing in $15 over five years. The statewide minimum wage will rise to $10 on Jan. 1.

Sacramento’s original proposal, unveiled in early September, leaned heavily on a “total compensation” clause. That would exempt businesses if their employees make at least $15 an hour including tips, commissions and other forms of compensation. The clause was designed to gain support from restaurants, retailers and others in the business community.

But the compromise began to fray almost from the start.

Labor groups said the proposal didn’t go far enough to lift most low-wage workers out of poverty, and the Sacramento Central Labor Council and Center for Workers’ Rights warned they would sue over the “total compensation” clause. The state Office of Legislative Counsel declared that the clause is probably illegal.

Finally, on Oct. 19, an alliance of business groups led by the Sacramento Metro Chamber and California Restaurant Association came out against the proposal. The alliance, known as Keep Sacramento Working, said it was concerned that members of the Schenirer task force were devising a new plan that would undermine the “total compensation” compromise.

Peter Tateishi, president of the chamber, said Monday that he’s skeptical that a new plan can emerge that will satisfy the business community.

“Compromise isn’t dead, but the question is, what are they putting forward as a compromise?” he said. “Having watched that (first compromise) fall apart brings a certain level of skepticism.”

Fabrizio Sasso, executive director of the Labor Council, said he was concerned about a last-minute deal being rushed to a vote. “I’m a bit leery about ... making sausage on the dais,” he said. “There’s really no rush to get this thing done.”

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who has voiced concern in recent weeks about the minimum-wage plan, said he’s aware the task force is trying again to find common ground, but “what I’m hearing so far is we haven’t hit the mark.”

Hansen added that the entire proposal is being held together “with duct tape and safety pins. ... It’s not building confidence in the community.”

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler