With money and more time, the leaders of a campaign to raise Davis’ minimum wage from $9 to $15 per hour are looking to the November 2015 ballot as their date with economic destiny.
According to campaign finance reports submitted July 31, they have more than $10,000 in their campaign coffers so far, but Sean Raycraft, a local Safeway clerk and one of the campaign directors, said the group is taking it slow in hopes of collecting $40,000 in campaign cash, 8,000 signatures and time to have a better chance of success than their original plan for the November 2014 ballot.
Community organizer Bernie Goldsmith is no longer a part of the campaign, Raycraft said, for reasons he would not disclose. Goldsmith said in an email that he is no longer affiliated with the group.
The Raise the Wage campaign, as it calls itself, was gathering hundreds signatures each week in the spring when its volunteers were active. With UC Davis students on summer break, organizers have been biding their time, waiting for students, and Davis life, to come back to full force in the fall.
According to campaign finance documents, the campaign raised $5,100 in monetary contributions from four sources by June 30 and a $5,000 loan from campaign treasurer Alan Pryor. Pryor also gave $100 in a cash donation. Donations of $1,000 each came from two unions — UFCW8, which represents local Safeway workers, and United Auto Workers Region 5 — while Raycraft himself boosted the group’s treasury with a $3,000 donation.
“We’re not campaign professionals; we’re ordinary people,” he said, adding that no one in the campaign is making money off of it.
“We’re doing this because of social justice,” Raycraft said.
He also said he’s working on the campaign because he knows what it feels like to be part of the working poor, working more than one job to make ends meet or living in cramped conditions. It’s a definition he says more and more people in Davis fit.
Indeed, U.S. Census figures in 2012 listed 26.4 percent of Davis residents as living below the poverty level, compared with a 15.3 percent average statewide. What effect the UCD student population has on those figures is not clear.
Raycraft said those figures, as well as people with whom campaign volunteers have come into contact, show that economic stability is “just not happening” for an increasing number of workers in Davis.
The campaign is based on an economic theory that low-wage workers with better pay will buy more goods and use more services, thus generating a better local economy through more sales. Plus, it will add wage pressure to workers who now earn at or just above the $15 pay line. A UCD study in the works analyzing the effect of the proposed minimum wage on the Davis economy, Raycraft said.
But wage pressure is exactly one of the reasons why local small business owners are against the idea.
Jeremy Brooks, owner of Brooks Painting, said in addition to increased costs from paying his most inexperienced workers a higher minimum wage, he believes his other workers, who earn from $15 to more than $20 an hour, also will want raises because the wage floor will shoot up.
That, he said in April, will drown his business.
“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.
In an April op-ed piece published in The Davis Enterprise, Jeff and Laura Ambrose, owners of Woodstock’s Pizza Inc., said a rise in the minimum wage would cause price inflation across the business spectrum. Plus, small mom-and-pop employers can’t afford it.
“Profit margins are very thin for many companies, especially in the industries that tend to hire entry-level employees,” they wrote. “Employers will have no choice but to increase prices and/or downsize through automation.”
Raycraft responds to these criticisms by saying that increased sales to customers who are better-paid will solve these problems.
One other point of contention is that small business owners see minimum wage as a starting point for the vast majority of employees. But Raycraft says some Davis workers are being forced to live their lives in perpetuity in low-wage work.
Who’s right? Who’s wrong?
That’s exactly what local voters may have to decide next year.
— Reach Dave Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews