Emeryville City Council charges forward with nations highest minimum wage increase

1 min read

Mayor Ruth Atkin stated her desire for Emeryville to “make history” while in attendance with three other Councilmembers at a recent Berkeley “Fight for $15” rally. It looks like council is posed to do this very thing as they voted to move forward with this plan on Tuesday. Labor groups working for hotels and other corporations flooded chambers and successfully tuned out the voice of Small Business. A long shot attempt to petition for an impact study to transparently disclose the effects on youth labor, net employment and the cost of goods & services for these small businesses was for naught and largely dismissed.

The second reading and final vote is anticipated to occur May 19. The ordinance would go into effect 30 days after the adoption of the ordinance or upon the effective date specified in the ordinance (proposed to be July 1st), whichever is later.


Emeryville votes for the highest minimum wage in the country

By Roland Li
The Emeryville City Council voted Tuesday night to raise the city’s minimum wage to nearly $16 per hour by 2019, the highest specified level in the country. The vote came despite concerns from some small business owners that they won’t be able to compete with neighboring businesses in other cities.

The ordinance will go into effect on July 1 when small businesses with 55 employees or less will be required to pay $12.25 per hour. Companies with more than 55 employers will be required to pay $14.44 per hour. The wages will increase based on cost-of-living increases and will converge for both large and small companies by 2019.

Emeryville’s minimum wage will rise faster than in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, who have all adopted minimum wage increases above the state’s current $9 per hour. Emeryville will also outpace Seattle, which passed a law to increase minimum wages to $15 per hour by January 2018. San Francisco’s minimum wage is $12.25 per hour and set to rise to $15 by 2018. The changes come during a national debate over income inequality and a new effort from the Democratic Party to increase the national minimum wage to $12.

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. The voices of a large number small businesses had been heard at the previous Council meeting and most of their concerns appear to have been taken into account in this revised proposal. I assumed that they did not feel they needed to come back again as a result.

  2. Actually very little of what the small businesses asked for was included by council. Almost every request was shot down by Jac Asher.

    After which, the small businesses wrote a petition to express their desire to have a study done, to allow more time for discussion, and to allow a reasonable window between approval and implementation.

    The petition received over 100 signatures in 5-6 days and was completely ignored by all but Nora Davis (who asked for the ordinance start date to be delayed to October in a nod to at least one of the requests). Read the comments in the survey and you’ll see the small business community well represented.

    The EvilleEye ran a survey about whether a study should be done and there were two “yes” votes for every one “no”.

    The more realistic small business owners realized over a month ago that this isn’t about the community but about a block on city council wanting to make headlines. The best they could hope for was a stay of execution (which an immediate $14.44 would have been) and the hope that maybe a new regime might arrive in November 2016 to grant clemency for their businesses.

    The council and others are trying to pretend the ordinance has business support. I would challenge them to poll the small businesses on whether they would approve the ordinance as written or not.

    There’s a reason that the SEIU and others are out harassing the small businesses while rallying up union members from all over the region to show up at council meetings. The goal is to shut one group up and allow another to pretend it represents the people of Emeryville. There’s a reason this has been jammed through as fast as possible by the council so that there isn’t time for the community to realize what’s happening.

    Small businesses are run by practical people. Getting this council to abandon its radical approach is hopeless. The businesses have given up on fixing the mess and have moved on to dealing with it. There will be layoffs, closures, reduced hours, and higher prices. And, as always, they’ll work their butts off to try to keep going.

    In the meantime, the council will collect their kudos from the people they care about in the unions and then Emeryville will try to pick up the pieces.

    • Thank you. This comment is actually better than my thin article (sorry, I’m currently in a different continent/time zone).

  3. I have a question and maybe there’s an easy answer that I’m not seeing.

    If you have a bunch of low skill employees and you tell them that they’re getting a $3 an hour raise this year and a dollar an hour raise every year after that for the next four years no matter what they do, how they perform, what skills they learn, how often they show up for work, how many times they’re late, etc, how do you get any work done at all?

    It seems like the only tool the employer has left is to constantly threaten the staff with termination or just hope they are all diligent souls who love work for work’s sake.

    It used to be that you had to work to go up the ladder. If you got stuck in a low wage job, it said something about you rather than your employer. It’s like kids whose parents go yell at the teacher today when their kid gets a bad grade. They used to yell at the kid.

    When you replace a ladder with an escalator, how does anyone ever learn to climb?

    • The solution is that you outsource as many of your entry level jobs as you can. Or you automate them away.

      There’s no reason your order at McDonalds drive-thru can’t be taken by a call center in India.

      There’s no reason your burger can’t be cooked by a machine.

      There’s no reason you can’t place your order on a kiosk rather than telling a sixteen year old.

      It’s already happening. I saw an order taking kiosk at a Jack in the Box in Oakland last week. Taco Bell is allowing you to order on your phone now.

      For a lot of workers the fight for $15 will soon turn into a fight for a job. When you make it cheaper to use a machine than a person, guess who gets the job?

      Be careful what you wish for.

  4. When Measure C went through changing the minimum wage for hotel workers in Emeryville, it just barely passed with 54% of the vote. It was very focused on one industry and an industry that has no small businesses.

    There’s no way this would have passed as a popular vote in Emeryville. The community likes the small businesses that this will kill.

    The only way this sneaks through without popular support is exactly the way it was done: rushed, quietly, and with the unions coming in as stand-ins for the community. If one more person said “I’m from Oakland and with SEIU Local #123” at the last council meeting, I would have shot myself.

    Here’s a photo of “our” council arriving for work at last month’s union rally in Berkeley:
    http://emeryvilletattler.blogspot.com/2015/04/emeryville-city-council-contingent-at.html?m=1 At least they’re not trying to hide who they represent.

    The high school counselor from Emeryville came to the meeting to say this was going to make it hard for his students to get jobs. Did anyone listen to him? Nope. Only Nora Davis even mentioned his concerns.

    The small businesses came out at the prior meeting to say they couldn’t afford $14.44 and to go with $12.25. Did anyone listen to them? Nope. They’ll be above that next July and rising to over $16 because that’s what the unions want.

    Do you know what a “living wage” is for a person in Emeryville? $11.51 (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/0600122594) Minimum wage workers (who are mostly young and single and mostly live in families well above the poverty line) would have been more than covered at $12.25.

    But we’re headed to $16 because…

    We just got played.

  5. You know those signs you see around Berkeley that say “Nuclear Free Zone”. How hard would it be to replace “Nuclear” with “Small Business” so Emeryville can have some signs too?

  6. Is there anything we can do to stop this from happening? It seems like the unions have successfully bought city hall. Are any of the council people even putting up a fight against union demands? Seems like the unions are getting everything they want and the small businesses are getting screwed.

    • Sure there’s something you can do: get 2/3rds of the states to ratify the Constitution to outlaw collective bargaining. You can craft it so it’s illegal for more than one worker to associate together in public places or private. Cameras can be installed in worker’s homes, every room, to enforce this entirely reasonable new law. Because everyone knows workers are the scum of the Earth and must be kept down. This is what makes America great. Read Ayn Rand and vote Republican!

      • It’s much easier than that. Just vote out everyone associated with RULE at the first opportunity.

  7. Good lord. It’s obvious you haven’t been in a real workplace in the last 30 years. It’s like you read Grapes of Wrath in high school and then reappeared 30 years later in Emeryville. The minimum wage worker today didn’t just get kicked off his family farm to work 12 hour days in the fields like you imagine.

    The poor oppressed worker today more often than not is under the age of 25, living with his parents, is well above the poverty line, has difficulty staying off his iphone on the job, and has a tendency to show up to worklate and a little hung over.

    Those that don’t fit this profile got a raise or two a long time ago. You’re fighting for a largely imaginary worker whose job got outsourced to China a long time ago thanks to the unions.

    • Minimum wage workers are drunkard middle class white teenagers? That’s quite a charge. I guess only an idiot would listen to what data driven scientifically generated studies say on this. Why would a reasonable person listen to liberal scientists when they could listen to what an anonymous commenter on a blog says? So tell us more…what about these unions that hate American workers? How does that work? Do they hate our freedoms like President Bush said the terrorists do? How about the global warming hoax? Tell us about that. Liberal scientists are pushing that canard as well.

      • There’s no such thing as a “liberal scientist”, you’re either a scientist or you’re not. You either search for truth regardless of where it leads (“scientist”) or you try to validate what you want to believe with data (“politician”). This is precisely why you can’t listen to IRLE, Robert Reich, or Fox News for that matter. You have to find and use non-partisan studies to understand anything unless your goal is just to keep believing what you believed yesterday.

        Being a liberal who won’t listen is no better than being a conservative who won’t listen.

        If the city council were busy trying to find a compromise that balances the needs of workers and business, I could respect that. That’s not what they are doing.

    • The science backs me up (except for the hungover part which is more of a personal observation):

      “The increased earnings for low-wage workers resulting from the higher minimum wage would total $31 billion, by CBO’s estimate. However, those earnings would not go only to low-income families, because many low-wage workers are not members of low-income families. Just 19 percent of the $31 billion would accrue to families with earnings below the poverty threshold, whereas 29 percent would accrue to families earning more than three times the poverty threshold, CBO estimate”

      “Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up about half of those paid the Federal minimum wage or less. Among employed teenagers paid by the hour, about 21 percent earned the minimum wage or less, compared with about 3 percent of workers age 25 and over.”

      That second quote is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first one is from the Congressional Buget Office.

      The unions and special interests want you to believe you’re helping the poor, but what you’re doing is helping the unions and the special interests. The poor, as always, get screwed.

  8. http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/marcos-breton/article21968802.html

    In Sacramento, the government creates a task force to study the issue. So radical. Check out the quote from Warren Buffett and the skepticism from the Berkeley academics.

    I believe Emeryville will be the first and only city that has opted not to study this issue AT ALL. And, we’re making the most extreme and rapid change of any city. Go figure.

    Combining ignorance with haste and excess, a recipe for success!

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