Activists Push to Raise Oakland Minimum Wage

by Andrew Szeto on February 18, 2014

This past Saturday, February 15th, a crowd of over a hundred people gathered at the Fruitvale Village Plaza to join a coalition called Lift Up Oakland in gathering signatures for a petition to raise Oakland’s minimum wage to $12.25 an hour and for mandatory paid sick days. The petition would support a ballot measure for November’s elections, which also features a high profile mayoral race. With other cities across the Bay Area already enacting minimum wage increases, Oakland’s $12.25 would put them amongst the nation’s highest.

Lift Up Oakland is a coalition made up of labor, faith leaders, and youth who believe that raising the minimum wage would benefit a city feeling the excess of San Francisco’s affordability crisis. Among the many participating groups and organizations are the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), and the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). Union support includes Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021, SEIU United Long Term Care Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5, and Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 2850.

A rally held at the petition drive highlighted the struggles of working people in the restaurant industry and the homecare sector. The crowd was led in chants like, “$12.25, just to survive.”

Oakland saw a series of fast food restaurant strikes last year, as restaurant workers continue to feel the impact of soaring costs of living and stagnant wages.

Guadalupe Salazar, a worker at McDonald’s, currently makes just $8.50 an hour, and struggles with supporting her family. Salazar said, “$12.25 would be very helpful for me. I have a six-year-old daughter, and I cannot afford many things I need like food, baby sitters, transportation.”

A minimum wage increase would provide serious material benefits for workers as well as the economy as a whole. The speakers at the rally all spoke of how a higher minimum wage would allow them to spend more too, boosting the local economy. “This will be good for everyone,” Salazar said.

Other workers in the service economy are also feeling the pressures to care for their families. Ebony Young, a homecare worker, brought her daughter on stage and spoke of her struggles to make a decent living. “I don’t want a handout,” Young said. “I’m not a victim. I just want to make enough money to provide for my little.”

“If the individual thrives, the community thrives,” she continued.

A key component of the ballot measure is the inclusion of paid sick days. Re Bun Ly works at See’s Candy in the Oakland Airport. “We don’t get sick days,” she said. “We won’t call in sick and lose that whole day of pay.”

Gale Bateson, the executive director of Worksafe, a nonprofit focused on improving workplace conditions, echoed the concerns about the lack of paid sick days for workers.

“The people taking care of the most vulnerable populations have to show up to work on days when they’re sick,” she said. “Often they really have no choice.”

Organizations like ROC, one of the members of Lift Up Oakland’s steering committee, have done extensive research on the health consequences of sick workers in the restaurant industry.

Lift Up Oakland’s minimum wage and paid sick days campaign will certainly put pressure on cities around the Bay Area to follow suit. Cities like SeaTac near Seattle have already proven that a $15 minimum wage is possible without hurting the economy.

Following the rally, the crowd formed into groups and dispersed around the city to gather signatures for the ballot initiative.

Among the many politicians that showed up to the rally was mayoral candidate Dan Siegel, suggesting that raising the minimum wage will be a hot topic of concern for voters.


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