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San Francisco's Lowest Paid Workers Could Soon Become Highest Paid in the Nation

Scott Lucas | June 11, 2014 | Story Politics

Mayor Ed Lee announced a compromise among the city's business and labor that would put a proposal to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15 an hour on the November ballot. Given the city's rising inequality and housing affordability woes, it's no surprise to see some movement on the issue, but—much like the housing trust fund initiative—it's a big win for the mayor, as well as Supervisor Jane Kim, who reportedly negotiated much of the deal.

If passed by the voters, the measure would raise San Francisco's minimum wage to $15 an hour in July 2018 from the current rate of $10.47. The minimum would rise gradually—to $12.25 an hour next May and again each year until hitting the $15 mark. After that, further increases would be tied to changes in the consumer price index, a measure of inflation.

"Our city has become more expensive. Working families, particularly those who earn minimum wage, are struggling," Lee said. "Today the current minimum wage at $10.74 just doesn't cut it. That's not enough."

Conflict centered on the exact numbers to use. SEIU Local 1021 had put forward a separate ballot initiative that would have raised the wage faster than the Mayor's proposal. The union will drop that effort to support the other proposal. On the other side, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association had pushed for an exemption for tipped workers like waiters, credit for health care and sick time costs, and a longer period of phase in. Those components were not reflected in the final proposal, and the group may oppose the initiative.

San Francisco is not the only city to be considering an increase in the minimum wage. Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond are also independently considering, or have passed, ordinances that would set their minimum wages near the San Francisco proposal. (There have been some moves towards consideration of the issue at a regional, rather than city-by-city level). Seattle's city council recently adopted a $15 an hour benchmark.

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