RICHMOND -- What seemed like an inevitable move to raise the local minimum wage hit a snag this week as several City Council members rejected Mayor Gayle McLaughlin's push to enact the wage hike without a staff study into possible effects.
"I am generally in favor of raising the minimum wage, but I don't like the way you have rammed it down our throat and refused to listen to anybody's ideas," said Councilman Tom Butt, criticizing McLaughlin and her Richmond Progressive Alliance allies who sought to raise the wage Tuesday.
Tuesday's agenda item to raise the minimum wage had appeared a formality -- it was a second and final reading of an ordinance that passed 6-1 on March 18 -- but four of seven council members decided the wage hike deserved more input from small businesses and a full study by city staff.
Council members Butt, Corky Boozé, Nat Bates and Jim Rogers formed the coalition to halt the law's passage at least until May 6.
The proposed law sets a transition period beginning with the effective date of the ordinance, usually 30 days after passage, and ending Dec. 31, during which the minimum wage would be $9. The wage would rise to $9.60 in 2015, $11.52 in 2016 and $12.30 in 2017, which could be the highest in the state.
The ordinance includes a provision that would peg the minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index for the Bay Area each Jan. 1, beginning in 2018.
The state's minimum wage is set to bump to $9 per hour in July and to $10 per hour in January 2016.
Tuesday's vote looks more like a delay than a turn in a new direction. Butt and Boozé said Wednesday that they still support the idea but want more input from businesses and more study on possible effects before making the final decision.
"We have plenty of time, we don't need to rush," Boozé said.
City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller also advised the council that further clarification of the law's wording was needed.
Tuesday's move was surprising to most onlookers and even elected leaders. The RPA sent out campaign mailers in recent weeks touting the law as though it had already been decided.
"The minimum hourly wage for all workers in Richmond was raised to $12.30, the highest in the Bay Area," the mailer said.
One business owner spoke in opposition to the wage hike Tuesday, and another raised similar concerns at the March 18 meeting.
Louis Buty of American Textile and Supply, which employees about 30 people, said the hike would put him at a disadvantage compared with businesses in nearby cities, and that the council didn't do enough to inform business owners of the ordinance.
Butt said Wednesday that the key for him was to get a detailed analysis from city staff. McLaughlin pointed out that members of the council had conferred with labor economists from UC Berkeley who assured them that the law would benefit the local economy.
"There is some evidence that on a local basis this isn't necessarily good for everybody," Butt said. "We need to get a study, get the statistics, so we can go into this with our eyes open."