A California proposal to gradually raise the statewide minimum wage to $15 an hour has gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Tuesday that the initiative, the “Minimum Wage Increases and Future Adjustments Initiative Statute,” had exceeded the 402,468 signature threshold needed to make the ballot. If passed by voters on Election Day, the measure will increase the state’s hourly minimum wage to $11 on January 1, 2017 and then by $1 annually until 2021, when it will reach $15. After that, wage increases would be determined based on inflation and the California Consumer Price Index, which local governments use to calculate cost-of-living expenses. Currently, a full-time worker making $10 an hour earns less than $21,000 annually.
The ballot measure is sponsored by two major unions, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and United Healthcare Workers West.
California’s minimum wage increased from $9 to $10 on January 1. However, around a dozen California municipalities have raised their minimum wage above $10. Following in the footsteps of Seattle, Washington, the first major US city to raise its minimum wage to $15, residents of San Francisco voted overwhelmingly in November 2014 to raise the minimum wage there from $10.74 to $15 by 2018. Last June, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed into law a measure that will see the nation’s second-largest city hike its minimum wage by 50 percent, from the current $10 to $15, by 2020.
Other cities have approved similar, but usually smaller, increases. Among these are Oakland ($12.15), San Diego ($11.50) and Mountain View ($11). Emeryville, just north of downtown Oakland and across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, made headlines last year when the city council there voted to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $16—the highest in the nation—by 2019. A proposal for a $19 minimum wage in neighboring Berkeley was rejected in favor of an increase from the current $11 to $15 by 2018 for larger employers and by 2020 for small businesses.
Some 300 community organizations, labor unions, faith leaders, small business owners and elected officials have endorsed the measure, including Democratic US congresswomen Loretta Sanchez and Janice Hahn, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and his predecessor Gavin Newsom, who is now lieutenant governor.
Supporters of the statewide $15 initiative say it will help the more than 3 million minimum wage workers struggling to survive in a state with some of the nation’s highest living costs. More money in more hands means more spending, say proponents, many of whom also point to growing income inequality as a major challenge to future prosperity.
“California has often been the incubator of ideas and policies that spread across the country—this initiative fits that mold and will make our state the leader in the fight against income inequality,” Newsom said in a statement.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl added that “California has led the country on environmental, health and civil rights protections and it’s only appropriate that we would become the first state to enact a minimum wage that allows millions of families to live in dignity.”
“Every day is a struggle providing for me and my daughter on the little I earn, but with a raise I’ll be able to stretch my income a little more and be able to pay for my daughter’s soccer fees and jersey,” Maria Sandoval, a gas station attendant from Los Angeles who earns $10 an hour, told Convenience Store Decisions. “No one can survive on the current minimum wage, and families shouldn’t have to double up in an apartment—like I do—just to get by.”
Business interests, led by the California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber), oppose the measure, arguing that in addition to burdening employers with higher costs, it would also create new costs for state and local governments. Opponents including CalChamber recently launched the Consumers Against Higher Prices Committee to fight the proposal.
“Under these initiatives, California small businesses will also bear the burden of facing higher costs every year with the inclusion of a CPI escalator,” said CalChamber President and CEO Allan Zaremberg. “Oftentimes, even in recessions, prices go up, and small businesses will be required to pay even more when they are making less. This is an unsustainable model that is bad for business and will hurt the very employees this wage increase seeks to help.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, has also voiced concerns about the impact of a higher minimum wage.
“Raise the minimum wage too much and you put a lot of poor people out of work,” Brown told reporters while unveiling his 2016-2017 spending plan in January. “There won’t be a lot of jobs. It’s a matter of balance.”
However, there is widespread public support for the $15 proposal. An August 2015 Field Poll found that 68 percent of California voters approve of the hike. Teresa Gomez, owner of Jensen Services, a tax preparation company in Fresno, is one of them.
“All four of my employees will get a raise under this ballot initiative and that’s good for them and my bottom line,” Gomez told Convenience Store Decisions. “I’ve found that when my employees earn more, they do a better job, they stick around longer and that improves customer satisfaction.”
Support for a $15 minimum wage has also been bolstered by high-profile protest movements in recent years, including Occupy Wall Street and Fight for $15, which has staged many nationwide protests mobilizing fast-food, retail and other service industry workers who are increasingly demanding a living wage and greater collective bargaining rights.