Nation’s Top Minimum Wage

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In a very unusual political combination seldom seen nowadays, San Francisco’s mayor, city officials, business, community and labor leaders have jointly agreed to place a proposition on the November ballot that will give a big raise to virtually all low-wage full time, part time, sub contract and temporary workers of big and small businesses alike.

San Francisco already has the country’s highest minimum wage which currently stands at $10.74.

But, if this proposal gets approved this Fall as expected, an estimated 100,000 workers will get an extra boost after six months to $12.25 an hour with additional annual increases until the minimum wage finally jumps to $15 an hour in July 2018.

“This will add $8,860 annual income for our city’s lowest paid and their families,” community organizer Shaw San Liu from the Chinese Progressive Association told me.

There are also stiff enforcement stipulations and cost of living adjustments after 2018. And, unlike other national wage-reform movements where opposing corporate interests are quite powerful and influential, the San Francisco initiative includes tipped workers and employees at non-profits and small businesses.

“We are very proud of the strength of this proposition,” Gary Jimenez said. “No carve outs. No exemptions. No loopholes.”

Jimenez is President of Lift Up Oakland and is vice president of the powerful and very socially active SEIU 1021 which represents thousands of San Francisco city employees and workers at non-profit service organizations.

The union played a very important role forging a broad Coalition for a Fair Economy along with UNITE HERE Local 2, California Nurses Association, OPEIU Local 3, San Francisco Labor Council and numerous community organizations such as Jobs with Justice, Chinese Progressive Association, ACCE, San Francisco Progressive Workers Alliance and SF Rising.

The result is clearly the best fast-track “Fight for $15” proposal in the nation and, remarkably, there has thus far been no announced opposition.

The big question is how did so widely divergent interests such as labor and business come to an agreement on raising the minimum wage.

Answer the Question!

Most important, it has nothing to do with San Francisco being unique or too “lefty.” This is absolutely not the correct explanation.

On the contrary, the first significant factor that got the ball rolling for raising the minimum wage in this west coast city took place over 3000 miles away on the east coast a few years back.

And, coming on the heels of the “Occupy Wall Street Movement” that first dramatically raised income inequality as a major topic of conversation throughout the globe, “low-wage Walmart and Fast Food workers in the last year or so picked up the ball,” Conny Ford told me.

“They raised practical demands of ‘Fighting for $15’ that directly addressed the wage gap.”

Ford is former OPEIU Local 3 secretary treasurer and current vice president of the San Francisco Labor Council.

Watching all these developments, including Seattle’s recent ground-breaking passage of a $15 minimum wage ordinance, “we grabbed hold of these same ideas and ran with them.” Ford said.

Often, political activists underestimate their impact as the power structure seeks to diminish their efforts. But, in this case, there can be no doubt that protest movements have successfully placed on the national agenda the idea of giving American workers a raise.

San Francisco Mayor Lee no doubt “felt this prevailing political pressure when asked where he stood,” Karl Kramer observed. Kramer is a leader of the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition.

But the mayor stumbled when he followed his usual pattern of calling together “stakeholders” as he labels them, with a heavy emphasis on business groups who act to stall and subvert progressive policies.

“Labor and community groups were way down on his list of who to consult,” Kramer said, “and we feared that proposals for raising the minimum wage would, therefore, likely be drastically watered down.”

This is where crucial political decisions made the difference.

Once it became clear labor and community groups were largely being ignored, they formed Coalition for a Fair Economy and  “we bypassed the process at City Hall,” Jimenez explained, “by filing a ballot initiative to go directly to the voters” with a clear and expedited policy of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Thus, while corporate interests would have no doubt preferred to water down minimum wage proposals, the organized movement was able to overcome opposition by using the strength of 59% polled city support for a $15 minimum wage along with the possibility of mounting their own independent petition drive.

When it became appropriate for the labor and community coalition to build a wider consensus with the Mayor’s “stakeholders,” all agreed to one single ballot proposition.

But, it was a “consensus built more on our terms,” Jimenez reported.

“The lesson we learned was that working people have to drive the political process themselves–not wait for politicians to do what’s right,” he concluded.

Labor leader Ford expressed her opinion that for too long labor wanted community groups to join us “for our issue but it was never back and forth. I believe that tide is changing and this proposition will be the fruit of years of bringing together an effective labor/community coalition which we call Jobs with Justice.”

Like Jimenez and Ford, we can all learn from the San Francisco experience.

But neither the lesson of establishing mutually beneficial labor and community relations nor the example of a hard-driving political approach are unique or specific to this fine city. They can be applied anywhere.

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

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