California’s minimum wage has already increased by $1 in the New Year, but that hasn’t stopped unions from clamoring for more wage hikes at an accelerated pace.
Across the state civic leaders have teamed up with unions to make the “Raise the Wage” campaign a central tenant of their policy agendas – emboldened by the political pendulum’s power swing from the federal government to City Halls. Indeed, it seems there has never been a better time to be a big-city mayor or city councilmember looking to make a splash, and the minimum wage has become an issue that not only polls well, but also inhabits the national consciousness. For these reasons an estimated two-thirds of mayors now support a $15 minimum wage.
As population began to shift back towards America’s cities following the Great Recession, the country’s urban centers have become younger and more liberal than their suburban or rural counterparts while carrying plenty of votes. In fact, a look at the politics of the country as a whole increasingly tells the story of blue cities inhabiting a sea of red - rather than the traditional blue state, red state dynamics of old.
Recognizing the demographic swing in their favor, Big Labor has set out to establish super minimum wages in California’s most liberal cities with the understanding that these population centers are often political harbingers of what is to come for the rest of the state.
Divide and conquer
Four out of California’s five largest cities have already taken action to address the minimum wage while discussion of the issue is beginning to heat up in the lone holdout: Fresno.
The political powerhouses of Los Angeles and San Francisco both passed ordinances in 2015 to phase in a $15 minimum wage that will be tied to the Consumer Pricing Index (CPI) once the $15 wage level is reached. San Francisco is scheduled to reach $15 an hour in 2018 – two years ahead of L.A.
The other largest cities in the state, San Diego and San Jose, were two of the first California cities to enter the recent living wage fray and targeted wage increases shy of the hallowed $15 mark. San Diegans will vote in 2016 on a citywide ordinance targeting $11.50 an hour by 2017 with further increases tied to CPI. San Jose’s minimum wage will be $10.30 for 2016 as its first wage hike was tied to CPI and moved little. Nevertheless, the city is already looking to enter the minimum wage exercise again and has commissioned a countywide minimum wage study to be published in 2016.
Not to be outdone by their big city neighbors, peripheral cities like Oakland, Berkeley, Los Angeles County, Santa Monica and Emeryville have all taken equally (if not more extreme) approaches to the minimum wage. Their policy agendas appear to be the political equivalent of “keeping up with the Joneses” and an easy way for politicians to capture the media attention surrounding the issue of inequality.
Trickle down policy
If the purpose of the SEIU’s city strategy was to lay the groundwork for a statewide super minimum wage and the unionization of the foodservice industry, then the organization also hoped to produce a political air of inevitability around wages. The political calculus behind their thinking is basic enough: once a city has passed a super minimum wage ordinance, then supporting a $15 minimum wage for the rest of the state (competing cities) is simply good, savvy business.
Evidence of this trickle down policy is already playing out in the media. Both the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland have come out in support of a $15 statewide minimum wage while other notable politicos in the state like gubernatorial hopeful Gavin Newsom are rallying behind the idea.
Big Labor has given its approach teeth by launching a two-pronged assault with use of the Legislature and the ballot box in 2016.
Senator Mark Leno has led the charge from inside the Capitol with SB 3 as his vehicle. When his legislation to push the statewide minimum wage to $13 was first introduced, the state was not even yet through its implementation of a phased-in increase from $8 to a $10 minimum wage – one of the largest increases in the state’s history. Nevertheless, the senator from San Francisco is again pushing for another statewide wage increase after making SB 3 a two-year bill.
Outside the Legislature, two union initiatives have been submitted for the 2016 November elections, seeking a $15 minimum wage across California in addition to mandating six paid sick days per year.
The machinations of Big Labor’s push to boost its membership and achieve a super minimum wage have so far been effective; however, victory at the ballot box is still far from certain.
This is the second in a series of articles on a potential $15 minimum wage. Stay tuned for a piece to follow covering the statewide ballot initiative.