Capitol Alert

SEIU starts competing effort to put minimum wage on California ballot

Activists and workers converge near the McDonald's campus during a SEIU-backed Fight for $15 rally on May 20, 2015 in Oakbrook, Ill. The fight is now coming to California.
Activists and workers converge near the McDonald's campus during a SEIU-backed Fight for $15 rally on May 20, 2015 in Oakbrook, Ill. The fight is now coming to California. TNS

California’s largest labor union on Tuesday unveiled its own bid to increase the statewide minimum wage, setting up dueling pay measures aimed for next year’s ballot amid persistent concerns over income inequality.

The proposed initiative, supported by the Service Employees International Union’s state council, would boost the base wage to $15 per hour by 2020, and mandate six paid sick days a year. The current $9-an-hour minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $10 on Jan. 1.

Following another failed push in the Legislature, Roxanne Sanchez, president of SEIU Local 1021, said it’s time California joins the nationwide effort.

“We have more wealth than anywhere,” Sanchez said. “But also more poverty and economic inequality.”

The announcement exposes simmering tensions between SEIU’s umbrella organization, which claims more than 700,000 members, and SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, which is pursuing a separate measure to gradually hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2021. The health care union’s bid, previously backed by Controller Betty Yee and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, on Tuesday received the blessing of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“Millions of hardworking Californians struggle every day to provide for themselves and their families because their wages have not kept up with the high cost of living in our state,” Newsom, a 2018 candidate for governor, said in announcing his support. “California leads the country on so many issues like the environment, civil rights and public health, so it’s only appropriate that we also lead on addressing income inequality.”

SEIU-UHW officials say they have exceeded the 366,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot but plan to collect a couple of hundred thousand more signatures ahead of their Jan. 27 deadline.

Polls show strong support for hiking the wage floor in California. The Field Poll in August found nearly seven out of 10 voters support incrementally raising the minimum pay by $1 per hour each year over the next five years.

Still, it’s unclear how voters would react to overlapping – or competing – proposals, both of which would index the minimum wage once they meet their respective minimums. Under state law, the initiative receiving the highest number of votes would take effect.

SEIU plans to launch its signature drive in January and to submit them in April. Organizers contrasted their campaign with the other by stressing that they’ll showcase everyday workers, not elected officials. A conference call announcing the measure featured a fast-food worker from San Diego.

Kristin Lynch, a strategist for SEIU 1021, said she was confident that the two sides will eventually come together. But she stressed that the SEIU state council’s version was the superior draft because it gets to $15 an hour one year faster and doubles, to six from three, the number of guaranteed sick days.

“We are doing our own thing because we think this initiative is sufficiently different,” Lynch said. “We are prepared at this point to put in, with our coalition partners, the $20 million to $30 million that we know we’ll need to make this a winning initiative.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago