OAKLAND -- The growing movement to help workers at the bottom of the pay scale has come to Oakland as a union-backed coalition seeks to enact one of the highest minimum wage rates in the nation.

A proposed November ballot measure would increase Oakland's minimum wage from $8 an hour to $12.25, with future increases tied to inflation. It also would guarantee at least five annual sick days for all workers.

"People are seeing that the economic health of our city depends on lifting up those who are not earning enough to pay for their basic necessities," said Beth Trimarco, a member of the Lift Up Oakland coalition, which includes powerful labor union SEIU Local 1021.

The group's ballot initiative has already raised concerns from local restaurant owners and helped spur the City Council to consider a minimum-wage increase of its own.

Council members are tentatively scheduled to consider the issue in April.

With wages stagnant and many of nation's new jobs being created in the low-paying service sector, support for minimum wage hikes is growing on both sides of the political divide.

While President Barack Obama is pushing a bill to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10, Ron Unz, a wealthy California Republican, is sponsoring a ballot measure to boost the state's minimum wage to $12 per hour, although that proposal wouldn't allow for wages to grow with inflation. The state's minimum wage is scheduled to reach $10 per hour by 2016 under a law signed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.


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Several East Bay cities, including Berkeley and Richmond, are considering more significant minimum wage increases this year.

San Francisco currently has the state's highest minimum wage, at $10.74. However, the city's requirement that employers also provide health benefits for workers pushes the value of minimum compensation to more than $13 per hour, said Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center.

Jacobs, who studied San Francisco's minimum wage increases, found that over the past decade they resulted in about 50,000 low-wage workers earning an additional $1.2 billion.

"From our research, the impact on workers is very positive, and there is no impact on employment," he said.

The Oakland Restaurant Association hasn't taken a position on the $12.25 minimum wage proposal. But the organization is concerned that the initiative would drive up the cost of doing business to the point that the recent migration of top chefs from San Francisco to Oakland would slow and Oakland's thriving restaurant scene would begin to contract.

"Some of the restaurants that are barely making it will close for good or move to Walnut Creek," said Mark Everton, an association co-chairman.

The Oakland proposal, which would take effect next year, does not include waivers for workers who receive tips or for interns.

Mayor Jean Quan says she supports increasing Oakland's minimum wage but wished that backers of the initiative had worked with city leaders. Quan said the proposal as currently written would require her to raise a lot more money to fully fund her summer jobs program, which employs about 1,600 teens.

Trimarco said it was too early to discuss whether Lift Up Oakland might try to reach a deal with council members on a wage hike that wouldn't have to go to voters.

Lift Up Oakland will officially kick off its signature gathering drive with a 9:30 a.m. rally Saturday at Fruitvale Village, 3301 E. 12th St. Signature gathering will begin at 11 a.m.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.

Minimum Wages
San Francisco -- $10.74
San Jose -- $10.15
Oakland -- $8