The first big campaign for Young Workers United was participating in the effort to establish a high citywide minimum wage for San Francisco. The initial hearings took place in the spring of 2002, and an economic impact study was commissioned from the University of California at Berkeley. Then in May 2003 a coalition came together to craft a piece of legislation and put it on the ballot. Proposition L passed in November 2003 with 60% of the vote, and took effect in San Francisco in February 2004. It enacted a city minimum wage of $8.50 per hour, giving a raise to some 54,000 San Franciscans, and winning the strongest minimum wage law in American history.
As of January 1, 2005, the San Francisco Minimum Wage will rise from $8.50 to $8.62 for all workers. Nonprofits and busineeses with fewer than 10 employees will need to raise the minimum wage for $6.75 to $7.75.
Minimum Wage Coalition
The organizations that came together under the slogan “San Francisco Deserves a Raise” included a cross section of low-wage community organizations. In addition to Young Workers United the most active were: People Organized to Win Employment Rights, Chinese Progressive Association, Hotel & Restaurant Employees Local 2, Mission Agenda, Day Labor Program, Central Cities SRO Collaborative, Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, small businessman Barry Hermanson, ACORN, and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition. (links to other orgs: http://www.livingwagecampaign.org/, http://www.unite-to-fight.org/, http://www.unitehere2.org/, http://www.lrcl.org/, )
The coalition decided to break with convention to pass this legislation. Rather than following the traditional electoral strategy of targeting middle-class liberal and progressive neighborhoods (like Noe Valley & Bernal Heights) with high voter turnout, the campaign decided to focus on lower turnout neighborhoods of working-class people, immigrants, and people of color (like Chinatown, the Mission, and Bayview) who would benefit most from Prop L.
In addition, the coalition forged alliances with other progressive ballot campaigns, specifically in support of Proposition H (which successfully reformed police oversight), and against the successful Proposition M (which continued the City’s attempts to criminalize homeless people). It strengthened all our campaigns and organizations that we were able to link low-wage jobs with problems of police brutality and homelessness.
Young Workers United engaged the campaign out of a recognition that young workers earn minimum wage more than any other age group, that youth work in the industries such as food service most affected by a minimum wage hike, and that youth were already reeling from staggering tuition hikes in public education.
So we took the campaign to the campuses of City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, with the message that “working students need a raise.” We registered loads of working students as voters, educated working students about the issue, won endorsements from Associated Students at both schools, and, most exciting, brought a delegation of working students to the meeting of the College Board of Trustees. Students asked for the Trustees’ endorsement of Prop L to help them cope with a recent 60% tuition increase, from $11 to $18 per unit. A majority of City College Trustees endorsed the initiative. Then YWU and a group of students went to Stonestown Mall to educate young retail workers about the opportunity to vote themselves a raise.
“Students Seek Board of Trustees Endorsement,” by Zuri Berry, City College Guardsman, October 15, 2003
Proposition L Legislation and Implementation
Some highlights from the Prop L legislation itself:
Ø A minimum wage of $8.50/per hour.
Ø Indexing to inflation by raising the minimum wage every January according to the increase in the Consumer Price Index for the region.
Ø A 2-year phase in for nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 10 employees. Otherwise NO exemptions for youth, trainees, workfare workers, tipped workers, or anyone else.
Ø Coverage for anyone who works more than two hours within San Francisco, regardless of where the employer is located.
Ø A requirement that employers must provide employees with their name, address, and phone number. (This is particularly important for day laborers.)
Ø Required posting in every workplace in English, Spanish, Chinese, and any language spoken by more than 5% of the workforce.
Ø The minimum wage has an administrative enforcement mechanism through the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, or civil enforcement through private lawsuits.
Ø Any worker who does not receive the minimum wage is entitled to back wages plus $50 per worker per day.
Ø Strong anti-retaliation language.
Ø The City can suspend licenses or permits of employers that do not cooperate
Since Prop L took effect in San Francisco on February 23, a couple of major implementation questions have emerged. First, the San Francisco Department of Human Services has attempted to argue that welfare recipients are in fact exempt from the legislation, and the coalition has tried to rebut this. Second, the City department in charge of enforcement is responsible for enforcing the Minimum Wage Ordinance, the Minimum Compensation Ordinance (living wage law), prevailing wage laws, and the Living Health law. The office doesn’t have the resources to be aggressive in ensuring that unscrupulous employers are getting away with ducking their obligations.
Links to OLSE MW website
Economics of the Minimum Wage
Widespread public support for Prop L was partly related to the economic impact study by Berkeley economist Michael Reich, which found that the San Francisco economy could well afford an increase to $8.50 without displacing workers or small businesses. It also found that the industry that would be most effected would be the restaurant industry.
Then the Berkeley Labor Center issued another report by Alex Lantsberg confirming Reich’s findings that 54,000 workers previously making below or just above $8.50 would get a raise, and showing how much the affected workers would be people of color, immigrants, and working students.
The main corporate opponent to Prop L was the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, who generated all manner of extreme rhetoric to scare voters into voting against something that might cut into restaurant profits and increase employers’ responsibilities to workers. Despite all the GGRA’s fuming about small businesses, there are only two questions about the minimum wage: can the industry afford it and do the workers need it?
The two studies from Reich and Lantsberg showed that the workers needed the raise. And the GGRA’s argument that the restaurant industry was still reeling from September 11 and couldn’t afford the raise wasn’t supported by the facts. Over the last ten years, the restaurant industry in San Francisco has significantly outperformed the rest of the economy in employment growth, and gained back all the jobs that were lost after 9/11. Moreover, some of the same reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle that wrote stories about how the minimum wage was going to ruin the industry then wrote stories about how successful the restaurant industry is. Bottom line: restaurants go out of business all the time because it’s a rough industry, and the minimum wage isn’t a big reason why.
The next fight: a state minimum wage
On winning a higher minimum wage in San Francisco, YWU turned to lend its support to passing a higher minimum wage for the state of California. Assemblywoman Sally Lieber of Mountain View introduced AB 2832 which would raise the California minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.75 over two years. Although the Lieber Bill handily passed the legislature, and was bolstered by a study from UC Berkeley showing that an increase in the minimum wage would save taxpayers $2 billion in public services to low-wage workers, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it September 18. His commitment to representing all Californians proved less important than his commitment to making California safer for business by keeping workers poor.
YWU testified at a March hearing on the Lieber Bill, about the importance of a higher minimum wage to young workers and working students.