After two years of political twists and turns, more than 170,000 workers in San Diego will see their hourly pay increase to $10.50 in the coming weeks. In the coming years, their hourly pay will grow faster than the statewide minimum wage hike approved in April.
On June 7, voters in “America’s Finest City” approved Proposition I, sparking celebrations among working families, as well as Raise Up San Diego, a coalition of labor, grassroots, LGBT, faith, environmental and business advocates, which lobbied for the measure.
Advocates and City Councilman Todd Gloria, who introduced the wage increase idea as an ordinance in 2014, reported the passage of Proposition I, which will grow to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. It also will provide five earned sick days to all workers in the city.
“Prop. I will immediately improve the lives of San Diego families who work hard and are not paid enough to make ends meet,” Clare Crawford, executive director of the Center on Policy Initiatives, said in a statement. CPI, a research and “action institute,” and the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council (AFL-CIO) are lead organizations in Raise Up San Diego.
CPI estimates the higher hourly pay will benefit 25 percent of all San Diego workers. Of that amount, 95 percent are over the age of 20, a third are adults raising children and more than half are women, according to the organization. The San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council reports the higher wages will mean raises of up to $260 per month for workers, including teacher aides, janitors, fast-food employees and emergency medical technicians.
How Will the Raise Help Workers?
A young woman gives her answer in 2014, when the San Diego City Council approved the minimum wage increase.
“For many, that means being able to pay the rent and the light bill in the same month,” Dale Kelly Bankhead, secretary-treasurer of the Labor Council, said in a statement.
The wage hike to $10.50 per hour will start after the San Diego County Registrar of Voters certifies the June 7 results. The registrar has 30 days to do so, according to Gloria’s office. Until then, San Diego’s minimum wage is $10 per hour, which is the same as the state level.
The effort to increase the city’s minimum wage faced opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as some businesses and organizations representing hotels and restaurants. Opponents spent at least $500,000 to stop the wage increase, according to Gloria’s office.
Supporters pointed out that members of the San Diego business community joined with veterans, immigration reform advocates and social service providers to back the measure.
For a time in 2014, the city’s wage debate was one of the most watched in the country, as only a few other governments had, to that point, approved higher hourly pay and as the U.S. dealt with wealth and income inequality not seen in about 70 years. The gap still exists.
The City Council passed Gloria’s wage ordinance that year. But a back-and-forth ensued with Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who opposed the measure and vetoed it. He voiced concerns about added costs for businesses. He also backed creating more jobs in the city as a way to help workers. The City Council succeeded in overriding the mayor’s veto.
Opponents, though, moved the issue to the initiative process, which culminated with this week’s vote. Tuesday’s decision in this city with nearly 1.4 million residents and a 15.8 percent poverty rate put the matter to rest, advocates said.
“Voters supported this measure because they understand that San Diego is very expensive and we need a local solution that provides relief to our workers sooner,” Gloria said in a statement.
Proposition I succeeded, advocates said, because of grassroots organizing by Raise Up San Diego and discussions with voters about what a higher minimum wage means to workers, their families and the cost of living in Southern California. One federal study found that California is the poorest state in the country, largely because of exorbitant housing costs.
“The coalition has had tens of thousands of conversations with voters in every corner of the city over the last two years,” Paola Martinez, director of the Alliance of Californians for Community Engagement, said in a statement.
“The results of [the] election demonstrate that most San Diegans agree that if you work hard, you should be able to afford basic living expenses.”
On June 22, a San Diego City Council committee will discuss an ordinance to enforce the wage increase and establish an office to handle complaints.
By Jan. 1, 2019, the city’s new minimum wage, which will be $11.50 per hour, will be indexed to inflation, according to CPI.
By Jan. 1, 2020, the statewide minimum wage will take effect in the city. Statewide, employers with fewer than 26 employees will need to pay at least $12 per hour, CPI said. Employers with more than that number of employees will need to pay at least $13 per hour.
In 2022, the Golden State will see its minimum wage grow to $15 per hour.
Brad Wong is news editor for Equal Voice News. This story has been updated to say that San Diego’s minimum wage, as of June 10, was $10 per hour, which is the same as the level set by the state of California.
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