Back at the May 29th City Council meeting, our council approved an ordinance by a 3-2 vote that slowed the annual minimum wage increase schedule for small, independent food service businesses.
The decision was informed by a Mills College study commissioned by the city that showed a growingly disenfranchised independent restaurant climate fueled by labor costs and the resulting menu price surges that are alienating many of their customers.
Emeryville’s Small Business Minimum Wage had already hit the $15/hr. milestone last year and was scheduled to jump an unanticipated $1.30 on July 1st. This jump would reclaim the highest minimum wage in the nation for our city of 1.2 square miles. Higher than our neighboring cities of Oakland and Berkeley. Higher than San Francisco, higher than New York City.
SEIU Reacts by Mounting Referendum Petition
Labor activists funded by the SEIU vowed to fight the ordinance and immediately set off on gathering signatures for a “referendum petition” to repeal the ordinance. The language of the petition and the claims that it made are not scrutinized by California Elections Code nor is the petition required to be publicly posted.
Mailers were sent suggesting the city was “lowering” the minimum wage and likened the fight to the civil rights battles of MLK and Harvey Milk (FYI: Milk’s Camera shop would not fall in the category of businesses exempted from the faster wage schedule).
A referendum petition requires the signatures of 10% of Emeryville’s registered voters or a minimum of 666 signatures. After successfully gathering these signatures, the petition was submitted to the City of Emeryville City Clerk and then to the Registrar of Voters for certification.
Tonights’s City Council meeting will see our council vote to accept the results of this petition and either repeal the ordinance or place it on the 2020 ballot. A ballot measure that will be costly, bloody and again put our small businesses in the crosshairs of nationally-funded labor groups.
A Fight to ‘Save’ Trader Vic’s?
The list of independent restaurants that were targeted for the slower wage schedule was carefully crafted to include some of our neighborhood favorites. Rudy’s, Wally’s, Rotten City … establishments that make our city unique, give it character (refer to this link for a complete list of exempted businesses. Please note that the list is dynamic and could change as businesses grow or retract).
Among the list of approximately fifty eating establishments is one peculiar restaurant that many consider a “chain.” The Emeryville Trader Vic’s, an extension of the original that opened on San Pablo Avenue in North Oakland in 1937. While Trader Vic’s licenses its brand to 19 other locations around the globe, the Emeryville location is the only one still operated by the Bergeron family. The “twenty global locations“ threshold was strategically set to include Trader Vic’s in this list.
Councilmember Bauters expressed strong concern for the future of the institutional restaurant and the impact it would have on the city if they ceased operations. “If Trader Vic’s and the Townhouse close, the BCDC is not going to re-permit something else at the site of Trader Vic’s nor is anyone going to take a 30,000 square foot sit down restaurant,” Bauters noted at the May 7th Council Meeting. Bauters is among a growing list of local politicians that are prioritizing housing policy as a more effective way to impact poverty outcomes.
Many institutional, multi-generational restaurants have shuttered over the past few years including Spenger’s in Berkeley, Mexicali Rose in Oakland, Lucca Ravioli in SF. Full-service restaurants have been hit hardest by the wage mandates forcing many to adopt a counter-service model.
Biting the hand that feeds you?
Bauters, despite his background in advocating for homeless issues and affordable housing, has taken it on the chin by labor groups. Direct mailers have targeted him as the ringleader and propagated a fabricated quote from an unscrupulous opinion blog stating that he claimed the city has “done enough to help low paid workers” and that another raise was “unwarranted.”
Bauters argued passionately in favor of the ordinance and challenged the many references to other studies that painted a more optimistic view of the impacts of large minimum wage hikes. Bauters reminded his fellow councilmembers and those in attendance that Emeryville’s schedule was higher and our circumstances were unique. “We’re in uncharted territory.”
Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue, the only current councilmembers on council when the original measure was passed in 2015, have also been maligned by labor groups in their political propaganda. Martinez defended her support for the ordinance and attempted to reaffirm her support for the SEIU at the May 21st meeting. “What we’re contemplating tonight could be the difference between workers getting a raise, and losing their jobs,” she concluded during first reading of the ordinance.
Why the SEIU would take up arms against the small businesses of one of the Bay Areas smallest cities and the councilmembers considered supportive of labor causes is speculative. The SEIU has sank a lot of money and resources into the “Fight for $15” and has quite a bit at stake.
As more cities embrace raising the minimum wage to $15 as a “silver bullet” for fighting poverty, reading about the the unintended consequences and seeing cities retract their support in the face of failing businesses may give other cities, states and politicians pause. The item is a significant talking point among Democratic Presidential candidate hopefuls.
Higher Pay, Fewer Jobs Validated Again by CBO
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently released a report on a nationwide $15 minimum wage reaffirming what most economists and studies have concluded: Higher pay, fewer jobs. “The $15 option would boost the wages of 17 million workers who would otherwise earn less than $15 per hour. Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well. But 1.3 million other workers would become jobless.
A new Congressional Budget Office study found that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would increase the pay of at least 17 million people, but also put 1.3 million out of work.
It could also lift 1.3 million people out of poverty. https://t.co/tATylP69I4
— NPR (@NPR) July 8, 2019
Feature Image: “East Bay Workings Families” website.