Labor Working to Raise the Wages
By Bradley Cleveland
SMC Union Community Alliance
The “Fight for $15” movement has caught fire nationally, expanding beyond the fast food industry. Community and labor activists and local elected officials are heeding the call to “Raise the Wage,” so working families can meet their basic needs in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The San Mateo County Labor Council and its nonprofit affiliate, the SMC Union Community Alliance, are working with local unions and community partners to ensure low-wage workers get the raise they’ve earned by their contribution to the economic recovery. The Labor Council recognizes that in San Mateo County, the cost of living is near the highest in the U.S., and a living wage would be closer to $18 an hour.
Voters in Oakland and San Francisco voted to raise the minimum wage last year. City councils in Berkeley, Emeryville, San Jose, Sunnyvale and Mountain View have all hiked their minimum wage, and the cities of San Mateo and Palo Alto are considering legislative action.
Santa Clara County requires all businesses that provide services to the county or receive public funds to pay their employees a “living wage” of $19 per hour. Sonoma County is considering a similar ordinance, while the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has convened a task force to consider a uniform minimum wage hike for the various cities.
There is a high cost to low wages, and children bear the burden of these costs. Joint Venture Silicon Valley reports while the overall poverty rate in the Bay Area is 13 percent, more than three-quarters of all low-income children are raised in poverty. These children face health risks that can last a lifetime. Children of low-income mothers are more likely to be born prematurely and have low birth weight, which leads to subsequent developmental delays. These early health impacts often translate into lower school readiness and lower educational achievement, and consequently lower incomes as adults.
Income inequality in the U.S. has been increasing for several decades, and is now at levels not seen since the Great Depression. This is bad for working families, who struggle to pay for the basics—food, shelter and health care—but it is also bad for the economy. Economist Joseph Stieglitz writes that since the 1980s, policy makers have adopted rules that benefit the wealthy at the expense of working people.
“As a result, we have a tax system that raises insufficient revenue and encourages the pursuit of short-term gains over long-term investment [and] a dwindling support system for workers and families. . . Rather than strengthening the economy, these choices have led to lower growth, repeated downturns including the worst crisis since the Great Depression, the shrinking of the middle class, and increased concentration of wealth at the top. It’s time for something different.”
The economy is out of balance, but we can change that. Just as elected officials adopted policies that benefited the rich, we need to demand that politicians rewrite the rules to benefit working families and boost the local economy.
Good jobs—ones that pay fair wages and offer paid time off, health insurance, and other benefits—actually boost the economy. When working families have good jobs, they afford health care and other basics; kids perform better in school, which improves their employment opportunities.
The “Raise the Wage” campaign is drafting a platform that calls for:
• A minimum wage of at least $15 for all, including those working for tips;
• Paid time off and health care benefits;
• Fair chance hiring for those with a criminal record;
• A voice at work so workers can exercise their right without fear of retaliation; and
• Fair contract standards to ensure that businesses receiving public dollars pay their employees a living wage that is sufficient to lift them out of poverty.
The “Raise the Wage” coalition has a dual focus this fall—expanding its outreach to low-wage workers and their families, and urging candidates for city council to go on record in favor of a minimum wage hike.
Efforts to raise the wage are just one part of a larger effort to promote policies that benefit working families. We need affordable housing, clean air and safe neighborhoods; job training and employment opportunities for local youth; thriving small businesses and successful local entrepreneurs. In short, we need an regional economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy.
To learn more about the “Raise the Wage Campaign,” contact Bradley Cleveland, 650-260-3151, firstname.lastname@example.org.