Sacramento minimum wage plan leaves out too many

Estuardo Mazariegos, right, invites workers at a Sacramento McDonald’s to join an April rally for The Fight for $15, a nationwide campaign for raising the minimum wage.
Estuardo Mazariegos, right, invites workers at a Sacramento McDonald’s to join an April rally for The Fight for $15, a nationwide campaign for raising the minimum wage.

Oscar Velez misses out on a lot of things: family reunions, dances, football games, sleep.

The 17-year-old McClatchy High senior works 15 to 30 hours a week as a cashier at the Taco Bell on Broadway in Sacramento. He took the job when his father was injured on a construction site and could no longer work. The $300 to $400 Velez earns every two weeks helps pay the bills.

Velez maintains at 3.9 GPA while juggling work, school and family obligations. He does homework on breaks at Taco Bell, and dreams of attending Stanford University.

He was shocked when he learned that a city task force recommended raising the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2020, but not for those under 18 like Velez. Other loopholes in the proposal – which will be presented Tuesday to the City Council and is scheduled for a vote Oct. 13 – would deny the higher wage to other vulnerable workers who need it the most.

“I don’t find this fair at all,” Velez said. “I’m not working for fun. I’m working to help my family.”

Velez is not alone. The majority of teens who work are from low- and moderate-income families, according to the Economic Policy Institute. On average, workers who would benefit from an increased minimum wage bring in half of their household’s earnings.

If the City Council adopts the task force’s recommendation, Sacramento would be the first city in California to exclude several categories of workers from a minimum wage hike.

Among those left out would be workers who get by on tips, about 24,000 in Sacramento. Most are women and earn a median wage of less than $10 an hour. This proposed loophole is illegal under California law. Every California city that considered this type of exemption has rejected it, partly to avoid a likely lawsuit.

Others excluded from the higher minimum wage would include employees who’ve been in their jobs less than six months. So would certain workers with disabilities, or who work in specific apprentice or nonprofit programs. And employers who pay at least $2 an hour toward employee health care premiums could also pay lower wages for some.

These excluded employees would work side by side with other workers, doing the same jobs, but would get lower wages.

Why did the task force leave out so many people?

The city has so much to gain by ensuring all workers earn enough to afford the basics and live with dignity. Single adults with one child need to earn $18.74 an hour to support themselves in Sacramento, according to the California Self Sufficiency Standard. When we raise the minimum wage so all families can afford the basics, their spending boosts the economy and builds a stronger Sacramento. Plus, when low-wage workers get out of poverty, they add five years to their lives.

Does Sacramento want to be known as the city that deems some workers more worthy than others? Or will it be the city that was a leader in supporting strong families in a thriving healthy community? It’s up to the City Council to decide.

Anne Stuhldreher is a senior program manager at the California Endowment.