OAKLAND -- City business leaders proposed a minimum wage hike of their own Friday, seeking to blunt a union-backed plan heading for the November ballot.
The proposal drafted by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, local restaurateurs and several nonprofit operators would phase in minimum wage increases over at least three years. It also would exclude workers who have internships, make more than the minimum wage in tips or are paid through government reimbursements whose rates are set below the minimum wage.
The proposal could wind up on the November ballot in direct competition against the union-backed measure that would sharply raise the minimum wage for all workers next year. More likely, it will serve as a bargaining chip next month when Oakland council members are expected to try to bridge the competing proposals and forgo the need for any ballot measure.
"It would be much better if all the stakeholders in the community agreed on a common approach like they have in other places," Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said.
Increasing the minimum wage has become a popular cause in the Bay Area, where low wage workers are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
This week, Berkeley council members voted in support of increasing the hourly minimum wage to $12.53 by 2016, and San Francisco supervisors voted to place a measure on the November ballot to raise its minimum wage to $12.25 next year and $15 by July 2018.¿
A state bill would increase the minimum wage to $13 in 2017.
In Oakland, the push for increasing the minimum wage was spurred by Lift Up Oakland, a coalition of community and labor groups including the powerful union SEIU Local 1021. The proposal, which has already gotten enough voter signatures to qualify for the November ballot, would raise Oakland's hourly minimum wage next year from $9 to $12.25 for all workers, with future increases pegged to inflation. It also would require employers to grant sick days for minimum wage workers.
But business groups said a sharp minimum wage increase would threaten Oakland's booming restaurant industry and endanger services provided by nonprofits whose wages are covered by government reimbursements that would not rise with the minimum wage.
Kevin Rath, who runs a nonprofit home care program for the disabled, said he'd would have to cut service unless the state upped reimbursement rates to cover the minimum wage increase.
"Everybody in Oakland is willing to adjust the minimum wage upward," said Greg McConnell of the pro-business Jobs and Housing Coalition. "The question is do we do it in a responsible way or in a way that will jeopardize a lot of small businesses."
The business-backed plan would incrementally increase Oakland's hourly minimum wage to $13 in 2017 for companies with more than 50 full-time workers and 2019 for nonprofits and companies with fewer than 50 full-time workers. Future increases also would be tied to inflation, but there would be no guaranteed sick pay, and many workers such as waiters making more than the minimum wage in tips wouldn't be covered.
"That is really a do-nothing proposal," said Beth Trimarco of Lift Up Oakland. "Everyone deserves to be able to make ends meet. That is not up for negotiation."
On Friday, the Lift Up coalition received the backing of several UC Berkeley researchers who found its plan would boost wages for up to 48,000 people while raising restaurant operating costs nearly 3 percent.
"A citywide minimum wage can help make the economy more equitable without harming economic growth," UC Berkeley's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Director Michael Reich said in a prepared statement.
So far, politicians are lining up on both sides of the debate. Mayor Jean Quan and council members Dan Kalb and Libby Schaaf have endorsed the union-backed plan.
Councilwomen Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Kernighan have voiced support for the competing proposal.
If no compromise is reached, the council could opt to pass its own minimum wage increase, but that would be trumped by the ballot measure, which only needs a simple majority for passage. Should the council vote to put a competing measure on the ballot, the proposal that got the most votes would become law.
Gibson McElhaney said she hoped an expensive ballot fight could be avoided.
"I believe the Lift Up coalition does want to negotiate," she said. "America needs a raise. The question is how do we do it in a way that lifts all boats?"
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.