Alameda may place minimum wage increase on hold for one year

Empty tables outside The Star restaurant in Alameda.

Alameda city staff is proposing a delay in raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour for one year due to the negative effects of the covid-19 pandemic on local businesses. The move would follow Hayward, which voted last Tuesday to put its minimum wage increase on pause for six months.

Alameda beatIn October 2018, the Alameda City Council approved an acceleration of the state’s schedule for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Alameda’s ordinance increased the minimum wage to $13.50 an hour last year, followed by an additional raise to $15 an hour on July 1. Unlike some other neighboring cities, Alameda’s ordinance does not differentiate between large and small businesses.

City staff’s proposal would delay the minimum wage increase for one year. “The coronavirus and the necessary measures to slow the spread of the disease are having severe economic impacts,” according to a staff report released this week. If approved by the council, Alameda’s minimum wage would, instead, reach $15 an hour on July 1, 2021.

Because the city would revert to the state’s timeline under the staff’s proposal, its minimum wage would increase on Jan. 1, 2021 from $13.50 to $14.00 for businesses with 26 or more employees. Businesses with 25 or fewer would remain at $13.50 an hour.

An alternate proposal by city staff follows Hayward’s model to delay the minimum wage increase for six months.

The proposed delay by the city’s Economic Development Department caught some city officials off-guard this week. Its inclusion on the April 21 council agenda may also present poor optics for some Alameda councilmembers. A separate item on the same agenda is a discussion for an increase in councilmember’s salaries.

On Friday, the minimum wage delay agenda item was listed as withdrawn. However, it is expected to be repackaged for a revised April 21 agenda to be published some time next week. The item will include other possible solutions for the city to help Alameda’s struggling businesses.

UPDATE:

The gambit by Hayward, and now Alameda, has alarmed local labor groups. Fremont, another Alameda County city set to hit the $15 an hour mark on July 1, is also contemplating a similar delay. Strong resistance is already being waged by labor, said officials with knowledge of lobbying efforts in several cities.

In San Leandro, where the minimum wage is also scheduled to increase to $15 an hour on July 1, a similar proposal to hold up the wage bump has not been officially raised, but business leaders there have lobbied city officials to follow suit, San Leandro insiders said.

The movement to accelerate raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the East Bay began in Oakland during the 2014 mayoral election. In subsequent years, the push for wage increases became a hot-button issue for progressives in the county, and later statewide. The “Fight for 15” was backed strongly by the Alameda County Democratic Party leaders, who advocated on its behalf in every city in the East Bay. Eventually, a number of Alameda County cities passed their own ordinances, with Hayward being the most recent last February.

A glimpse of the potential furor labor and progressive groups may exert on local elected officials who support minimum wage delays, was seen last summer in Emeryville when city officials attempted to rollback the city’s minimum wage ordinance for small businesses. Following intense pressure from labor groups, the Emeryville City Council quickly repealed the rollback and reinstated what remains the highest local minimum wage in the country at $16.30 an hour.