Berkeley, California, is arguably one of the most reliably left wing cities in the America. The city has been home to such 'progressive' ideas as officially declaring a Marine recruiting center as “unwelcome,” resolutions calling for the “impeachment” of Republican presidents they don't like, symbolic votes to comply with UN treaties on human rights, and honoring Wikileaker Pfc. Bradley Manning as a “hero.”
But when it comes to raising the minimum wage, a goal that has gained steam in prominent Democratic party circles for a number of years now, even they have their limits:
After months of anticipation, the City Council of Berkeley, Calif., decided not to take the plunge on a proposed $19 minimum wage when it met Tuesday evening.
Council members opted instead to have staff draft an ordinance based on an alternate proposal put forth by four council members. That proposal calls for a gradual increase to $15 by 2018 for big businesses and by 2020 for small businesses, defined as having 55 or fewer full-time employees.
The City Council made this decision in spite of disapproval from many in the local business community, who see raising the minimum wage even to the lesser amount of $15 an hour as something that will quickly choke the life out of their businesses:
Berkeley business owners say a new proposed minimum wage hike will quite simply drive them out of business and, in the process, destroy the unique flavor of shopping districts such as the Elmwood, Telegraph Avenue, downtown and Fourth Street.
At the same time, given that the city is at the forefront of progressive politics on so many issues, many merchants fear they will appear politically incorrect for opposing a higher minimum wage.
Also per the Berkeleyside website, some of the business owners said they felt “very, very intimidated,” and feared proponents would “retaliate” in some way against those who spoke out against the proposal. They're also upset and feel that many who are advocating for the higher wage have no idea what it's like to run a business.
Using arguments frequently made by right wing opponents of raising the minimum wage, some complained about already having to cut back on hours and staff, saying they simply couldn't afford to keep them on:
Alex Popov, founder of four businesses in Berkeley including Pappy’s Grill and Sports Bar on Telegraph Avenue, has been an outspoken opponent of a minimum wage increase since he crunched the numbers and saw how deep the cuts would have to go.
“Due to Berkeley’s increase of another 13.9% next year, we will be laying off three employees — two kitchen staff and a catering assistant manager,” he wrote in a letter to the City Council and city manager Nov. 3.
Elon Khelif and Gabe Duran, co-owners of the Beta Lounge on Durant Avenue, said in a letter to the City Council: “The jobs we offer are not career jobs … These [minimum wage] jobs are for students and other young adults who need experience and a job while they are figuring out their next move. It’s a shame we live in the most expensive area in the country, but small businesses shouldn’t be held accountable for that, and be expected to pay part time employees what a corporate company is paying its employees. Please don’t force us to close our doors.”
Unfortunately for them, the Berkeley City Council isn't listening - and with this coming so quickly after the minimum wage was already raised there to $11 an hour in 2014, who is to say they won't revisit the $19 figure in the near future?
Far left activists in the “Fight for $15” movement are ecstatic over Berkeley's move right now, but arguments that go along the lines of “why stop at $15?” could very likely gain steam to those who believe the primary stumbling blocks to happiness and financial security and stability for minimum wage employees are “greedy” business owners.
The question remains though, is if there will even be any businesses left in trendy Berkeley areas after the $15 an hour policy is fully implemented:
Stuart Baker, executive director of the Telegraph Business Improvement District, told Berkeleyside, “It’s such a potentially dire situation that merchants I’ve spoken to [say] it’s a threat to their livelihood. If the proposal by the labor commission goes through, I can tell you the Telegraph Avenue district would be decimated.”
The upper end of Solano Avenue has felt the pinch for several years, said Angela Cadogan, owner of Urbanity, an upscale consignment boutique.
“As it stands, Urbanity neighbors a storefront that has been empty for the past two years,” she said in an email. “Urbanity is also on the same block as the Oaks Theater, which remains empty after four years.
As they say, stay tuned.