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Increase in Minimum Wage Works to Benefit Local Employees

A new minimum wage for Berkeley went into effect on October 1, after the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously in 2016 to make the change. The change raised the minimum wage from $13.75 to $15 an hour starting in late 2018. Berkeley is one of the few cities in the country to have a $15 hourly minimum wage. For young people who work in a government or non-profit run job-training program, the minimum wage increased from $12 to $13.25 an hour, according to the City of Berkeley press release.

People had both positive and negative reactions to the change.

The idea of raising the minimum wage came about because councilmembers such as Lori Droste wanted to help working people. Droste said she “wanted to help low wage workers make ends meet.” So Councilwoman Droste and others thought about what a reasonable minimum wage would be and how long it would take to reach.

The new minimum wage is designed to help all workers, and this rise in pay not only benefits adults in the workforce, but teens who hold jobs as well. “It would probably put more money in your pocket, and that’s a good thing,” said Droste. Another issue being addressed by the rise in minimum wage is the fair compensation of teen workers. The change will work to “make sure that we can offer opportunities for teenagers and also make sure they are being paid fairly for their labor,” said Droste.

Jillian Curran, a Berkeley High School junior who works at Chipotle on Telegraph Avenue, said she doesn’t have the same expenses like rent that college students and adults have but sees how the minimum wage increase could help. Curran didn’t think that it would affect her much since she is still in high school, “but I do work with college students,” Curran said. “I’m sure it would really affect them just because they have to pay their own rent, they have to do all these things and Berkeley is a really expensive place. It could really help them.”

However, on the other side of the debate are some businesses and small business owners who have concerns about the new minimum wage. Basically, owners now have to pay their employees more, which a lot of the owners are willing to do, but it also affects their profits because some restaurants have a large number of staff. With the new minimum wage, employees receive a higher percentage of the businesses profit, leaving small businesses with slimmer profit margins and more vulnerable to economic decline.

Droste said she heard these complaints. “It could be challenging and we recognize that,” she said. She said that the city council worked for a long time on its proposal. “We went through a very extensive collaboration process and that included labor activists … [and] business owners, both small and large.” She said the city council initially approved a slower phase-in, but ultimately the council arrived at the decision to implement a minimum wage of $15 an hour starting in October 2018. “We were able to achieve a minimum wage that everyone … approved of,” said Droste.

Researchers at the University of California (UC) Berkeley have also studied this issue by looking at how raising the minimum wage affected the economy in six large cities: Chicago, Washington DC, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle. The researchers found a significant increase in pay but no significant decrease in employment because of the wage changes, according to a press release from UC Berkeley public affairs.

Ian Perry, a research and policy associate at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said that their research clearly shows that the new minimum wage will only benefit a city like Berkeley, especially for its low-wage workers.

“Based on what we’ve seen in other cities, there is no reason to think the minimum wage increase will negatively affect employment in Berkeley,” Perry said. “This is clearly a positive for Berkeley’s economy. The minimum wage increase will put more money in Berkeley workers’ pockets, without harming their ability to find a job.”