Minimum Wage Voices: UC Berkeley Grad, and E’ville resident Elijah Esquibel

2 mins read

Finding an Emeryville low-wage worker who also happens to live in Emeryville was no easy task. Unless you won the affordable housing lottery or are great friends with your landlord (or still living with your parents), affording to live in Emeryville has become increasingly difficult. We turned to the advocacy group EBASE (East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy) who’s mission is to “advance economic, racial, and social justice by building a just economy in the East Bay based on good jobs and healthy communities.” EBASE connected us with Elijah Esquibel, a UC Berkeley Grad [originally reported to be a student] who works at the Hilton Garden Inn on Powell.

[Addendum] It was not divulged by the provider of this piece that Elijah is in fact on the board of Unite Here! 2850 (an unpaid position). Elijah makes $10.53/hr. in addition to gratuity.

I’m a banquet captain at the Emeryville Hilton Garden Inn. I also live in Emeryville, and my wife and I like to eat and shop locally. So when wages go up, everyone has more to spend at local businesses. We eat pastries at Arizmendi a few times a week; we have a late night dinners at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café after work; and sometimes we meet friends for drinks at the Oaks Corner.

For the minimum wage retail workers at Bay Street, workers at the non-union hotels in Emeryville that are not covered under Measure C, and the fast food workers throughout the area, many have to work three hours just to afford a pizza from a local pizzeria – which means they can’t afford it.

In addition to struggling to pay for food, transportation, and health care on $9 an hour, long commutes are destroying people’s family lives. With rents skyrocketing, it’s typical to $1,000 just to get a single room in a small apartment with three roommates in Emeryville. People earning minimum wage are moving further and further away, and many of my co-workers commute 90 minutes to two hours just to get to work.

There’s no question in my mind that low-wages are stressful and take a toll on people’s health, family life, and our community as a whole. When multi-national corporations like IKEA, The Gap, and Jamba Juice pay low wages, they not only keep people down, they keep our community down. When workers earn so little, they can’t afford to eat at local eateries, which negatively impacts local businesses and economy.

IKEA profited $3.7 billion last year. Locally, I’m sure that’s millions of dollars in profits that got sucked out of the local economy. I think our community deserves better and should receive a benefit from these profits. Paying workers more is the best way to do that.

By bringing all workers up to $15 an hour by 2018, people would be able to spend a little more at local businesses.

The pie is growing, but workers’ share is shrinking. Business is booming, but workers wages are stagnant. Now is the time to raise the minimum wage. Cities around us are all bringing wages up whether it’s Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco or San Jose. Workers in Emeryville should not be left behind. Taking care of business also means taking care of employees.

– Elijah Esquibel

Email Elijah →

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The E'ville Eye Guest Contributor series invites local officials, business owners, residents & neighbors to share their opinions and voice about a broad range of subjects involving our city. Contact us if you're interested in submitting an editorial or story.


  1. I don’t understand his comment about long commutes. If wages in Emeryville are higher than everywhere around, won’t entry level workers start commuting in from even farther away?

    The workers from other cities will travel farther to get to their new Eville job, and Eville residents who can’t compete with thousands of job applicants from all over the Bay Area wanting to make $14.50+ will have to look for work in other cities. Everyone will be commuting more, not less.

    The smart guys making minimum wage will live in Hayward or San Pablo and work in Emeryville. Those Emeryville residents who were struggling before or who are on a fixed income will be in a really bad way with a higher cost of living and fewer opportunities locally.

    Kind of annoying that this has become a conversation between the unions and the businesses. The people of Emeryville (the ones who will be paying most of the cost) seem completely left out of the conversation.

    Almost all the speakers at City Council were either union reps like this guy or panicked small business owners.

  2. how is it that the unions are pushing increasing the minimum wage but then exclude their own collective bargaining agreements from the law? seems like the people who are jamming through these laws should have to live by them too.

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