It’s being done to some extent in San Francisco and San Jose, but is it right for Davis?
The issue is whether to support a petition to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour within city limits. Bernie Goldsmith, a local activist, has teamed up with local labor boosters in an attempt to collect 7,000 signatures to put the issue on the Davis ballot. So far he said they’ve got roughly 1,000 and their deadline is May 1.
According to the ballot language drafted by an independent attorney, if passed, the minimum wage in Davis would jump from what will be $9 per hour on Dec. 31, 2014, to $11 per hour on Jan. 1, 2015. The wage would rise again to $13 per hour in July 2015 and crest at $15 per hour on New Year’s Day 2016.
Esteemed critics and supporters of minimum wage increases are legion, many bearing letters after their name and carrying top prizes in economics teaching at prestigious universities around the country.
Jeremy Brooks is not one of them. He owns a Davis painting company and over time has built a successful business that pays some of his workers multiples of the current $8-per-hour California minimum wage. (The wage is slated by law to increase to $9 per hour this July and $10 per hour next year.)
Some of Brooks Painting’s employees make $15 and others more than $20 per hour. Student helpers earn about $10 per hour during the summer.
As it is, Brooks says, he’s got stiff competition with people who don’t even pay minimum wage.
“I battle the guy who paints out of the back of their truck, doesn’t pay taxes and does things under the table,” he said.
If a $15 minimum wage is passed, his summer helpers will be paid as much as some of his regulars are. Those $15-per-hour employees will want more money, he said, and whatever they get paid, the people who get paid more than they do will want even higher wages. In the end he’ll be laying off workers, Brooks said.
“Minimum wage was never meant to be a livable wage,” Brooks said. “It was meant to be an entry-level wage.”
Brooks said with a rise in employee costs, businesses still reeling from the recession would go under, because the money has to come from somewhere and diners at Davis’ many restaurants will want to pay only so much for a meal.
Goldsmith has heard these arguments before. According to a statement, Goldsmith said similar measures have passed in other cities without bankrupting the local economy.
“In January, voters in SeaTac, a suburb of Seattle, passed an initiative to raise the wage to $15 for hospitality and transportation workers,” he said.
SeaTac is home to the airport of the same name.
While Goldsmith points to a 1995 Princeton study that he says shows a net zero effect on the economy if a minimum wage of $15 goes into effect, there is another more recent analysis of 100 studies done by the National Bureau of Economic Research that showed 85 of those examinations revealed negative economic effects of a rise in the minimum wage.
Goldsmith in part recognizes this academic quagmire, and poses what he says is the real question for Davis voters: “Someone who works hard and plays by the rules deserves a fair wage,” according to language for the ballot argument.
“It’s difficult to hear both sides of this debate with equal clarity when some voices have a megaphone and others are silenced,” Goldsmith wrote in an email. “Low-wage workers are very vulnerable to economic threats and intimidation from their employers. For many of them, speaking publicly about this is a firing offense.”
Goldsmith plans to bring the issue to the City Council during public comment at the April 15 council meeting.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews.