San Leandro City Council rolls back minimum wage carveouts for small biz; approves original $15 wage by 2020

SAN LEANDRO CITY COUNCIL | The San Leandro City Council reaffirmed its goal of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 Monday night, but in a reversal, removed a previously approved one-year exemption for small businesses.

The council voted, 6-1, to adopt the original proposal that begins to raise the city’s minimum wage to $12 an hour beginning in July 2017 regardless of the number of workers the company employs. The wage then increases $1 a year before topping out at $15 in 2020—18 months before the state’s minimum wage reaches the same amount in 2022.

Councilmember Jim Prola and others had pushed for the city to make no distinction between the sizes of businesses at a July 5 meeting. Doing so, said Prola, ran the risk of complicating the ordinance. However, a substitute motion by Mayor Pauline Cutter added a carveout allowing businesses with 25 or fewer employees to reach $15 an hour by 2021–a full year later than larger businesses. Monday night’s meeting was intended to be the first reading of the ordinance before Prola motioned for his own substitute motion.

Councilmember Benny Lee was the lone vote in opposition. He feared the minimum wage increases would hinder minority-owned small businesses.

Similar to two weeks ago, several councilmembers voiced passionate pleas for helping the city’s poor and low-wage earners. This time a public comment in opposition of raising the minimum wage appeared to set off some members of the council. “What’s the rush?” said San Leandro insurance agent Jerry Garcia, who is also the incoming president of the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce.

“What’s the rush?” Councilmember Lee Thomas later responded. “It’s a rush to live.”

Prola also used Garcia’s question for rhetorical effect. He argued low-wage workers with more money in their pockets will translate into higher profits for small businesses. Studies show the reason small businesses close has nothing to do with paying a higher minimum wage, said Prola. “It has everything to do with not enough people coming through the door.”

Since the motion approved by Prola constitutes a “substantive change” to the minimum wage ordinance, said City Attorney Richard Pio Roda, a first reading is again required. However, since the San Leandro City Council, like other local jurisdictions, observes a month-long recess in August, the item will not be heard until September. The delay, Pio Roda added, will have no effect on the ordinance’s timetable for beginning the incremental minimum wage increases due to begin next summer.

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