After 25 Years of Development Featuring Service Jobs,
Will Emeryville Move to Mollify That Model's Rapaciousness?
Emeryville's business community is assembling their forces to push back against a City Council initiated Emeryville minimum wage proposal, set to be decided by the Council in May. The City will hold a public study session on the subject April 7th. If these meetings are to be anything like previous meetings when the business community has been asked to pay anything more in our town, they promise to be drama filled evenings. The Emeryville Property Owners Association is jumping into the fray; they're planning a public town hall style meeting of their own on the subject March 16th, a chance to "educate" the public sponsored by the business community.
But as these epic Council meeting dates approach, what should Council members expect from our businesses here in Emeryville? The Council will be asking them how they'll do with an increase in the minimum wage. It's not against the law for the business community to lie about the effects the minimum wage hike will have on their businesses, if they even know what the effects will precisely be. Since it's not against the law for them to lie, should we expect them to, especially if by lying they think they might not have to pay as much? Should past behavior by the business community when they have been asked to contribute more in Emeryville, inform us in any way? If they have been found to have lied in the past about the effects of City Hall policy on their businesses, should their credibility be at all effected?
How about the working poor in our midst? Should their plight be considered by the government? Does City Hall have a responsibility to help the poorest people among us? Is exacerbating wealth discrepancy and record inequality OK for a government to do? The City Council has spent a generation saying YES to developers, adding lots of minimum wage service sector jobs in our town; a workforce that can't afford to live here and must commute in from poor parts of Oakland and farther flung locales. Does Emeryville City Hall have any duty to help the legions of these poverty stricken people they brought to work here? If the City has the right to do something about it, should they exercise that right? Is it the government's charge to address this higher calling? Or should poor people in Emeryville just be left to their own devises?
A premier local restaurant.
The haters among us tell us
we can't have nice
stuff like this without selling our
soul to the devil.
So what's it gunna be Emeryville?
Redwood trees or jobs?
Bucci's or minimum wage?
Any reasonable person that's not an ideologue knows the answers to these questions. And that's why we think Emeryville will move forward and do the right thing by the poorest among us, because the new Council majority is just that: reasonable and not ideologues.
How High? What Logic?
But how high should the minimum wage in Emeryville be? Some are saying we should set our minimum wage the same as our neighbor Oakland: $12.25 per hour. There is a certain compelling logic to that...but it's a logic based in business marketability. Of course this business marketability argument means we should be driving DOWN the minimum wage, not raising it up. Oakland, it should be noted, is considering another rise in their minimum wage soon.
Again, we need to keep our focus where it belongs; the problem is poverty, not marketability.
Another logic could be Emeryville's minimum wage should be set so a person working in our town could actually live in our town. With sky-high rents in Emeryville, the wage would have to be at least $20 per hour (that's $800 per month at 25% of income at 40 hours per week).
So how high should the minimum wage be? The answer for Emeryville is $14.42 (Consumer Price Index raised from $14.03 after July 1st). That's the minimum amount a person has to make working 40 hours per week, to be ineligible for government assistance; food stamps, housing assistance, et cetera. Anything less than this amount is effectively a wealth transference rate: money being transferred from the taxpayers to business owner employers. It's yet another government subsidy for business.
Poverty Wages or Sub-Poverty Wages
A wage of $14.42 is a poverty wage, let's not mince words. A person making this wage will almost certainly not be able to afford to live in our town. Every cent is earmarked for basic survival. This person is not making enough to provide for a family. If Emeryville sets the minimum wage at less than $14.42, we are delegating a class of us to exist in sub-poverty conditions, surviving on government handouts. Sub-poverty; that's the badge of dishonor we're going to have to wear regardless of any vows we may have made regarding the responsibility of government.
Is Emeryville a City of Non Viable Businesses?
As one would expect, this talk of raising the minimum wage has caused the business community in Emeryville to run around with their hair on fire. The talk has been pretty heated; they're going to have to lay off their workers or go bankrupt they're now telling us. They're forming coalitions to fight the wage hike, with big business hiding behind small business. We heard it, full throated at a recent Council meeting, the minimum wage on the agenda; $14.42 will kill them they say. By this, what these businesses really mean is they can only afford to pay sub-poverty wages to their workers.
But any business in our midst that can't afford to pay anything but a sub-poverty wage to their employees is not a viable business. By definition; that's not a viable business. They're in effect saying they have business plans that lock them in and they must oppress their lowest paid employees. Emeryville, they want us to believe, must be a locus of suffering and oppression. If this is true, these are the kinds of businesses we don't want in Emeryville. This is a description of a sweat shop.
After a generation of our City Hall bringing lots of development with lots of low wage service sector jobs like fast food and retail, we must remember we created this mess ourselves. Are we going to now make it a one two punch; first community busting development then oppression against workers? Is that who we are in Emeryville?
Or is Emeryville a City of Viable Businesses?
So far, the businesses in Emeryville have been pretty adamant; they say they can't afford to pay their workers these higher wages. We must consider that these businesses might be lying (or they don't really know). It's not like we've never seen business in Emeryville lie before. Indeed, the loudest screamer against this among business owners so far has been John Tibbets, the owner of the Oaks Club gambling casino on San Pablo Avenue. He's told the Council he will be driven out of business by a $14.42 minimum wage. Driven out of business... interesting... that's also what he told Emeryville voters in 1997 when he railed against Emeryville's Measure B, the card room tax increase ballot initiative. Of course, that turned out to be a lie.
Then of course there's also Measure C, the 2005 'living wage for hotel workers' ballot initiative. Emeryville's hotels all said they would be driven out of business if they had to pay their workers more money. Incidentally 2005 is when there were four hotels in town, now, after Emeryville voters passed Measure C, we're starting construction on hotel number five. The hotel owners we now know, were lying.
When it comes time for businesses to pay more to their workers, lying is the default go to place for many. It's no shocker. But what will really happen if Emeryville raises the minimum wage to $14.42? There have been many academic studies done on this subject over many years. We're not suffering from a lack of scientifically obtained data. We know that there will be some difficulties for businesses at first as they adjust to the new wage standards. Prices will likely go up for some of the customers of some of the businesses as they re-coup the higher wages and then a stasis will again be achieved... except the new paradigm will mean people in Emeryville will be making more than sub-poverty wages and our values won't be undercut. We also know people have seen enough oppression of the working poor; higher minimum wages and raising up the lowest paid among us is very popular with voters, both in Emeryville and across the Nation.
Hucksters Selling False Choices
Whenever it comes time to do something for the least fortunate among us, the oppressed, the dispossessed, you can count on it there will be those lecturing us on how unrealistic it all is. We're told we need to be pragmatists; sure we may want to do something about the terrible inequality brought on by a sociopath's view of the role of government and a rapacious private sector, but we're always told not now, not in this way and not if it may cause inconvenience to business or even worse, money. This time in Emeryville has been no different. Besides all the poor business owners, some citizen ideologues too have piped up: This will kill small locally serving business we're being chided. Raising the minimum wage will be a boon to the biggest businesses because they can afford it. The small desirable resident friendly businesses, some might say competition to the big business, will be driven out they say. So raising the minimum wage presents a choice we're told. We can have Bucci's restaurant or we can have a raise in the minimum wage. We can have Farely's coffee shop or we can have a raise in the minimum wage. We can't, apparently, have both.
Redwood Trees or Jobs, Bucci's or the Minimum Wage
Emeryville of late is feeling a little like the days of capitalist junk bond financier Charles Hurwitz who in the 1980's acquired Pacific Lumber Company and then said the debt incurred by the leveraged buy-out made the clear cutting of all the rest of the old growth redwood on Pacific Lumber's vast holdings necessary. Californians were given a Hobson's choice by Mr Hurwitz: jobs or redwoods.
We have our own choice we'd like to forward: Should we listen to scientists on the effects of raising the minimum wage? Or should we listen to the people with money at stake and their apologists? Who's more likely to be lying?
With our new City Council majority seated, we're not going to listen to these nattering nabobs of negativity. Emeryville is going to increase our minimum wage so the working poor no longer earn a sub-poverty wage at one of the many retail and fast food establishments we've built over the years here. And we're not going to leave anyone behind with special exemptions or carve-outs in our new polity. All are going to be lifted out of sub-poverty. We may allow small businesses in town some extra time to ramp up to our new minimum wage. But we're all going to get there because while we may have made terrible choices in Emeryville in the past, the choices we make now are not going to be the one's ginned up by the business community, they're going to be the real choices for the betterment of our whole town.