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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Face of Minimum Wage

Emeryville's Minimum Wage Workers

Beatriz's Story

News Analysis
Emeryville is considering raising the minimum wage and a rising tide of voices against the proposal is being heard from the small business community in town.  The former Mayor and a vocal minority of Emeryville residents supporting the business sector are also entering the fray.  Contrary to claims made by these critics, the City of Emeryville has voluntarily made transparency, accountability and democratic inclusion paramount; a courtesy letter was sent to every business in town, alerting them to the public meetings where this issue has been discussed, giving businesses a more than equal opportunity to influence the decision makers.
This unprecedented move by City Hall however has caused some residents to cry foul, noting City Hall is giving the business community special favor with the notification letter since no residents or workers have gotten this letter.  The letter represents an extra level of transparency, above and beyond the legal minimum requirements, and is causing some blowback; these residents say the City should be be just as concerned about giving this extra level of notification to all the residents and the workers, since they would also be directly affected by a minimum wage increase.  The City should be as interested in hearing the resident's and the worker's voices as the voices from the business community, these residents claim.

Amid all the drama between the business community and residents, the one group yet to be heard from in any substantial way, are Emeryville's minimum wage earning workers themselves; the people in our town who stand to gain from a wage increase the most.

The Tattler has sought to rectify that.  We've contacted several of these workers and we have encouraged them to testify to the City Council or to us.  With one exception so far, these low paid workers have declined to comment; all claiming fear of retaliation from their bosses.
The exception is a young woman of color working at a national fast food chain restaurant in town.
This woman and her employer will remain anonymous as she has expressed fears of possible retaliation from her boss if her identity is made known.  She has chosen the name Beatriz for herself for purposes of this story.

Beatriz's Story
Beatriz (19) works for this Emeryville fast food employer but she lives in Richmond with her parents and siblings, she told us she cannot afford her own apartment.  She is attending community college part time while she works, usually 25 hours per week.  She rides the bus to Emeryville for her commute.  Beatriz is paid $9 per hour, the current minimum wage in Emeryville (and California) and she receives no benefits.  Her paycheck is sometimes less than $200 per week after taxes are taken out.  She is in training to become a 'shift leader', a promotion if she gets it, and her compensation would increase to $10 per hour (with no benefits offered).
Beatriz receives financial aid for college but she has to pay for her books on her own and her Emeryville job provides that money.  Most of the remainder of her earnings goes to her parents to help pay the family's bills.  She told the Tattler, "I have a big family and I help out with food expenses and rent and other bills".

Low Wage Brings Family Crisis
Rent is a looming and existential problem for Beatriz's family;  the lease on their apartment is ending and the landlord is using that opportunity to increase the monthly rent on them.  This has put the family in crisis because they can't afford the higher rent.  The landlord has notified the family they will be evicted if they can't pay the higher rent.  "We're going to have to move, but the rents are high everywhere", Beatriz told us.  Her parents have been looking for a new apartment to rent but they can't find one the family can afford.  Meanwhile the clock is ticking.

Beatriz has been made aware of the proposed $14.42 minimum wage for Emeryville's big businesses and she is extremely happy and hopeful at the prospects, "The money I make is necessary for my family.  A raise to $14.42 per hour would mean my family would be able to keep our home" she said.
Beatriz would make an extra $5.42 per hour with the proposed increase.  This amounts to an extra $135.50 per week or $542 per month before taxes, more than enough to make up for the increase in Beatriz's family's rent, "definitely enough to save our home" she said.

Profits Sent Out of Emeryville
Beatriz's employer, a wholly owned subsidiary of a larger parent corporation, has more than 7000 restaurant locations across the US and is located in over 50 countries.   The corporate headquarters are out of state and an Internet check revealed the CEO brings in more than $4.2 million yearly in cash payments and equity compensation, a level that translates to more than $2100 per hour for a 40 hour week at 50 weeks per year.  The corporate Board of Directors each gets around half what the CEO gets, around $1000 per hour (if they work full time).
However the majority of employees for this corporation make the minimum wage or less, that's $9 in California but only the federal level of $7.25 elsewhere.  This means the CEO earns more than 290 times more than the average lowest paid workers.

The next public meeting to discuss Emeryville's minimum wage raise will be at the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting: Tuesday April 7th at 6:30 PM at City Hall.  The public, including minimum wage earners, are welcome to attend and give public testimony if they wish.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the important reminder about those left behind in our Emeryville miracle.