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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Breaking News: City Council Cuts Wages of Working Poor

City Council Action:
Minimum Wage Cut, Restaurant Chains Redefined Helping Corporations with 'Global' Footprint

Breaking News (Emeryville City Hall 8:13 pm)

Tonight the City Council passed a roll back of Emeryville’s landmark minimum wage ordinance with a second and final reading of an amendment that takes away a substantial raise for the poorest workers in town.  The vote broke the same way as the first reading with Vice Mayor Patz who called the amendment "A pay cut [for workers] plain and simple" joining Mayor Medina in voting NO to the roll back.  Council members John Bauters, Dianne Martinez and Scott Donahue voted YES to cut the workers' wages.

The language of the wage roll back amendment rescinds a scheduled $1.30 raise for 'small independent' restaurant workers for eight years, making Emeryville one of many Bay Area cities with a $15 or nearly $15 minimum wage.  The wage roll back City Council insurgency, led by members John Bauters and Dianne Martinez was joined by Scott Donahue after Mr Bauters changed the deal, to allow a yearly pittance wage increase until 2027 for these workers (with no increase at all for 2019).  The amendment carve out also redefines the words 'small' and 'independent' restaurants to include corporate chains with up to "20 global locations".
The new law provides that in the year 2027, restaurant workers will finally catch up with other workers in Emeryville, barring another Council driven minimum wage roll back.

The about-face in labor policy converts Emeryville from leadership to near pariah status among the progressives in the Bay Area labor activist community, many decrying the region wide erosive nature of the roll back.  Spokespeople for East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), the East Bay’s premier labor advocacy group, warned the roll back action would embolden anti-labor forces throughout the Bay Area and beyond.  EBASE, instrumental in helping formulate Emeryville's Minimum Wage Ordinance to great fanfare in 2015 was notably snubbed by the Council in its current drive to reverse it.
Despite concern from labor, the roll back policy this time was derived with input solely from the business community and the latest 'Business Conditions Report' aka the 'business study' or MWO study' commissioned by the City and completed last summer.  Critics have complained the study only looked into the business side of the MWO, ignoring labor.  No efforts were made to check the veracity of dramatic claims of sliding business bottom lines or looming bankruptcy by either the study or the City Council in the lead up to the roll back it should be noted.  That, plus the subsequent ignoring of labor concerns by the City Council prompted a chastising response from EBASE Executive Director Kate O'Hara, "The study did not ask businesses to provide specific data from their own experience to back up the opinions they are providing" she said in a letter to the Council. 

Labor backers have noted City Hall’s new minimum wage policy, in addition to increasing suffering, will leave Emeryville now vulnerable to labor shortages with working poor families fleeing to communities paying the same wage but with a lower cost of living.  After the California statewide $15 minimum wage law takes effect in less than three years, this vulnerability could reach crisis proportions with working families decamping wholesale to lower cost cities elsewhere in the state.  This likely eventuality brings into question the City Council majority's exact intent with the roll back.  Tonight they made no effort to address this issue.
A simple check of apartment costs in California reveals Emeryville’s dramatic exposure to the loss of its already stressed low wage workforce.  It’s easy to find a nice one bedroom apartment in Vacaville for $1200 per month.  A comparable apartment in Emeryville would be about $3200…an extra $2000 per month.  Venturing farther afield…say Alturas California, a one bedroom place can easily be had for $500 per month.
Formerly a beacon for the working poor in the Bay Area, Emeryville, after the roll back with its lowest wage at $15, now the same as many other cities, loses its competitive advantage it had to draw higher quality workers.  The City of Emeryville with its putative progressive City Council has used its power to transform itself from a city that sought to solve regional problems into just one of multiple cities adding to the region's problems.

In the coming months, long after the City Council has washed its hands of this, the Emeryville Tattler will, in a planned series of worker interviews, continue to report the effect this historic wage roll back is having on the working poor and their families in our community.  Look to the Tattler to do what the Emeryville City Council refused to do when they passed this roll back of our Minimum Wage Ordinance: listen to those working at the bottom of the wage scale.


  1. Lets roll back rents, with rent control after they roll it back. If citizens complained about rents would they jump on that. I know that's a laugh. They are not in ones shoes that pray they are not the next family that will be in that car or in that tent trying to survive. Shame on the City you should have thought before you gave hope to the working poor, you could have compromised with the smaller Business by giving up some kind of credit to help absorb the pay increase that would have been given help the work force.

  2. Let’s boycott Emeryville stores and restaurants. Money talks.

    1. You may want to target your boycott against businesses that worked against the minimum wage ordinance specifically. Many businesses, especially not in the food service sector, actually advocated FOR Emeryville's minimum wage ordinance or at least didn't come out against it. Some restaurants were against it but didn't take a leadership role against it. You can be assured, the businesses listed in red in the Tattler sidebar all took a leadership role in fighting the minimum wage ordinance. That is where you should direct your boycott in my opinion.

  3. This rollback is an embarrassment to Emeryville's honor after being highlighted in the New York Times as leaders in establishing the most humane minimum hourly wage increase in the country. Nobody wins, including local small
    businesses, which frequently must post Help Wanted signs.

  4. Here some worker interviews for you...