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Plans begin for 2016 ballot measure seeking larger Sacramento wage hike

Video: Sacramento police arrest protester at minimum wage hearing

Police arrest a protester at minimum wage hearing at City Hall. She was yelling “I’m pregnant” as she was taken away.
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Police arrest a protester at minimum wage hearing at City Hall. She was yelling “I’m pregnant” as she was taken away.

A day after the Sacramento City Council voted to raise the minimum wage, the discussion didn’t appear to be over Wednesday.

A coalition of groups representing low-wage workers and faith organizations is drafting language for a November 2016 ballot measure to raise the minimum wage beyond the level approved by the council.

By a 6-3 vote, the council voted to raise the wage to $10.50 an hour in 2017, with gradual increases leading to a rate of $12.50 an hour in 2020. The wage increases would be delayed one year for businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 100 employees.

But Raise the Wage Sacramento intends to file paperwork next month with the city clerk’s office to gather signatures for a ballot measure seeking higher increases. Christina Arechiga of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment – one of the groups in Raise the Wage – said Wednesday the ballot measure will propose increasing the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour in 2017. The wage would eventually reach $15 an hour in 2020 under the proposal, she said.

The proposal would also require employees to provide one paid sick day to workers for every 30 hours those employees work.

She said advocates should have gone straight to the ballot from the beginning, “but we were trying to have good faith in our government that they would do the right thing.”

The minimum-wage ordinance approved by the City Council was the result of a last-minute deal between top city officials, business groups and some labor leaders. It removed controversial provisions from a previous proposal that would have exempted many businesses from paying the minimum wage, most notably those that could prove their employees took home at least $15 an hour with tips.

The ballot measure floated by Raise the Wage does not include any exemptions, Arechiga said. She and other activists argue the City Council’s approved wage increase doesn’t go high enough.

Fabrizio Sasso, head of the large and influential Sacramento Central Labor Council, said his organization is aware of the ballot measure discussion but hasn’t taken a role in the conversation. That could change, he said, “as the fight continues.”

Another union representing hotel and food service workers said earlier this month it intends to collect signatures for a ballot measure seeking to raise the minimum wage for employees at the new arena in downtown Sacramento. That proposal would raise minimum pay for arena workers to $13.50 in 2017, with gradual increases to $15 an hour in 2019.

Councilman Jay Schenirer, who co-chaired a task force appointed by Mayor Kevin Johnson that made the minimum-wage recommendations approved this week, said Wednesday the plan adopted by the council “is a starting point for us about addressing income inequality.” He and other council members said the wage-increase schedule could change after the city analyzes the impact of the wage hikes, along with a statewide increase to $10 an hour scheduled to take effect in January. The city plans to analyze its wage increase every year.

“I don’t want to set the expectation” that the city will eventually approve a higher minimum wage, he said. “I think we have to be thoughtful and do our best to collect good data that is relevant to Sacramento. I think it’s also important to send the message both internally and externally that we’re not going to wait for the state” to propose its own increase.

On the possibility of raising the rate to $13.50 an hour in 2017, Schenirer said, “we have to be careful about the impact of going too high, too fast.”

“We have a delicate balance here of an economic recovery that is somewhat fragile,” he said.

Schenirer said there are also concerns about Sacramento dramatically raising its minimum wage while neighboring cities and counties don’t. A statewide initiative next year could propose a $15-an-hour minimum wage throughout California, and Schenirer said he would support that proposal.

“You don’t want to create a vastly uneven playing field,” he said.

There was a charged atmosphere during Tuesday’s council hearing, as dozens of low-wage workers and activists criticized the council’s plan. Arechiga and another woman were arrested during the hearing after police said they disrupted the meeting.

Arechiga said she spent about five hours in Sacramento County Jail and was freed on bail around midnight Tuesday. She said she is five months pregnant and was yelling, “I’m pregnant,” while being taken into police custody.

She said she raised her voice during the hearing because the mayor had limited the public speaking time at the meeting. While more than 50 people had asked to speak, 32 members of the public testified at the meeting. Most of the speakers opposed the ordinance, and public testimony lasted more than an hour.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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