The Fremont City Council acquiesced to concerns from small business owners and unanimously approved a two-tier schedule Tuesday night for accelerating an increase in the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour for all businesses by 2021, with exemptions for non-profits.

Fremont businesses with 25 or fewer employees will begin paying their workers $13.50 an hour starting in July 2020, followed by an increase to $15 in July 2021.

Businesses with more than 25 employees will start the schedule one year earlier, paying workers $13.50 an hour starting this July and $15 by July 2020. Afterwards, the minimum wage will be tied annually to increases in the Consumer Price Index.

“It’s not a living wage, but the best we could do now.”-Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon

The timetable gets Fremont to $15 an hour quicker than the state law mandating $15 an hour by 2022 for businesses, regardless of their size. Under state law, Fremont’s current hourly minimum wage is $11 for small employers, $12 for larger employees.

Fremont councilmembers also approved a so-called “youth exemption,” but reserved the carve out solely for the city’s non-profit organizations. A staff recommendation also extended the exemption to Fremont government. In addition, the council reduced the youth exception age for non-profits from 25 years old to 21.

Yet lying underneath the unanimity of the vote, some councilmembers urged for a single-tier approach also included in Tuesday night’s staff report that made no distinction between small and large businesses.

“I do believe this is a moral issue,” said Councilmember Vinnie Bacon. “It’s not a living wage, but the best we could do now.” Bacon first broached the idea of raising the minimum during a meeting last July. “This is money that is going back into our community.”

Councilmember Jennifer Kassan voiced sympathy for small business owners–she is one herself–but also preferred the single-tier proposal, while calling the youth exception discriminatory. “Age discrimination is only illegal against older people but not younger people,” she lamented.

Two new Fremont councilmembers–Yang Shao and Teresa Keng–offered a third solution, which would have postponed any increase in the city for one year in order to give businesses more time to prepare for the wage hikes. “I’m interested in taking action now rather than a year from now,” said Mayor Lily Mei.

Fremont’s two-tier solution, though, may cost the city more to enforce the wage increase, said Finance Director David Perssilin. The city would prefer any enforcement program be contracted out. But since few city’s in the region use a two-tier schedule for raising the minimum wage, the costs could be significantly higher, said Perssilin.

A moment of levity, albeit poignant, arrived after Councilmember Rick Jones suggested 25 years of age was too old to be exempted from the minimum wage.

“They stay until 25 nowadays,” Salwan quipped. “The millenials can’t afford homes.”